How to Make Money Using YouTube

Videos may be on the rise across most social media platforms, but YouTube remains the undisputed champion. With over one billion users who spend an average of 40 minutes per session on the platform, YouTube is a dedicated video-viewing experience rather than a “casual” one like Facebook or Instagram. And with Google’s ties to YouTube, YouTube videos give you a whole new opportunity to rank organically for priority searches.

YouTube offers a world of opportunities to promote your products, reach new audiences and send your revenue soaring.

If you’re feeling like YouTube is an overlooked part of your marketing strategy, you’re not alone. It’s not hard to convince people why YouTube is important, but the logistics of how they’re going to make the most of it are daunting for most ecommerce businesses. Although generating enough popularity to run ads is usually the first thing that comes to mind when people see YouTube as an entrepreneurship opportunity, it’s not the only way to make money using YouTube.

If you run an ecommerce store or are thinking about it, for example, YouTube offers a world of opportunities to promote your products, reach new audiences and send your revenue soaring. This guide will focus on providing tips to ecommerce entrepreneurs (or prospective ones) who are looking for a simple, step-by-step path into this important potential revenue stream.

If you’re an aspiring influencer or content producer, stick around — this is for you too! Many influencers hit a wall and need to consider other revenue streams – and should you choose to start selling products as part of that revenue stream – you’ll be way ahead of the competition. Ecommerce is a smart next step for influencers, who don’t have to worry about winning the trust and engagement of a loyal customer base — and, moreover, who have a natural aptitude for entertainment and a production system in place.

How Can I Make Money With YouTube?

Before we dig in, let’s take a quick look at the most common ways you could use YouTube to generate revenue:

  • You can become an influencer and develop a large enough following to monetize your channel with ads, sponsored videos or licensed content. As mentioned, we’re not going to focus on this one for this guide because the process and content will usually look different from business/branded content.

  • You can become an influencer who branches out into selling your own products. If this is you, then the process and content you’ve discovered to drive your influencer content will continue, but you’re also going to let your audience know what you sell, how they can buy it and why they should buy it. Don’t change tone or shift heavily into promotional videos — instead, do exactly what you did to grow the audience in the first place. They trust you and might be willing to buy a product you created or endorse, but they came on board for you, not your products. Keep being yourself!

  • Your Ecommerce business can use the platform to generate leads and referral traffic. This takes a lot of skill and time, but mastering the art of producing videos for your brand that people discover and enjoy is one of the best ways your ecommerce business can reap the full benefits of running a YouTube strategy. We’ll be covering this one more heavily in a bit.

  • Your Ecommerce business can use YouTube as a practical enhancement to your website and the customer experience. Let’s go back to our example and say your business sells power tools. If you’ve considered your resources and decided that your business doesn’t have the budget to produce the sort of videos that your target audience would find “discoverable” and interesting enough to watch, that’s perfectly okay. However, let’s say you also know that most people can’t make an informed decision about your more expensive equipment without seeing it in action. In that case, YouTube is still going to be a moneymaker for you — you’re just optimizing for conversions, not leads.

    Helping your customers make their purchase decision is a huge part of your website’s job — and for many businesses — videos are a component of that. In that instance, hosting your videos on YouTube and optimizing them, then embedding them on your site, is an absolute best practice even if you think there’s a slim chance people will be hopping onto YouTube to watch videos of bandsaws.

    Assisting in conversions using video doesn’t just have a direct impact on revenue — it can also indirectly impact an even bigger pool of revenue by helping with website’s SEO. If people stay on the page longer or convert more readily because of a video on the page, those engagement metrics will signal to the search engines that people are finding your site useful and they’ll rank it accordingly.

Although generating enough popularity to run ads is usually the first thing that comes to mind when people see YouTube as an entrepreneurship opportunity, it’s not the only way to make money using YouTube.

Is YouTube Right for Your Business?

A good YouTube strategy takes a blend of resources that can be hard for many small businesses to find, which is what makes it such a difficult strategy to tackle — you need a considerable amount of time, at least basic camera and editing equipment along with at least a basic knowledge of how to use them, someone who understands YouTube SEO and someone who understands the more traditional components of social media (compelling descriptions, posting frequency, how to share and interact with others, etc). Given that most of those things are entire careers in their own right, a DIY strategy can feel pretty daunting.

...think about why the content you’d be producing is well-suited for a video format.

But it doesn’t have to! The “up front” part of a YouTube strategy does take some time and resources, but after that it’s a little more hands-off than the engagement-hungry Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. If you’re on the fence about using YouTube for your business, use the following questions as a guide:

  • Do I understand why I want to make videos? First and foremost, what is your purpose for making videos? Think beyond “videos are an effective way to market to people” or “YouTube is an important part of any marketing strategy,” because that’s not true for everyone. Instead, think about why the content you’d be producing is well-suited for a video format.

    Why would you make videos even if YouTube didn’t directly help your revenue? Maybe you have a complicated product line and it’s helpful to have someone explain what each product does or how two products compare to one another. Maybe there’s a setup process that’s easier to show than tell. Maybe you’re an expert in your industry and you love making instructional videos, or maybe you write funny lists and blog posts and you want to share your work in another format.

    Think about your “why” and the story you want to tell, and the rest of your strategy will be a lot easier.

  • Do I have the right practical resources to produce videos? When it comes to video quality, YouTube audiences are forgiving — to a point. They understand that context matters, which means they’re going to expect a high production quality from a Superbowl commercial and iPhone quality from a candid viral moment. However, at the end of the day the videos do have to be watchable, and people expect a level of professionalism from business videos. That means you should be willing to commit the time, equipment and creative resources to the job.

  • Do I enjoy entertaining others? This is a strange one, but you’re going to have a huge leg up if you’re a natural entertainer. If you’re always using witty quips in conversations or making motivational speeches in meetings, then you have a natural understanding of performance that is well-suited for video.

  • Is the story I want to tell longer than 30 seconds? We’ll get into length in a bit, but for now, ballpark it — how much time do you need to tell your story? YouTube is a unique social channel in that longer videos can actually still hold attention (given the right circumstances), so if you’re thinking about instructional videos or detailed reviews, this is your medium.

The Basics

Ready to give video production and YouTube money-making a try? Then it’s time to set up your account. Whether you’re aspiring social influencer or an established ecommerce business, the setup best practices are the same.

  • Familiarize yourself with YouTube for Business. The YouTube for business channel, created by YouTube itself, covers all things (you guessed it) YouTube. Watch the videos (there aren’t many - you’ll breeze through them in less than an hour) to develop a basic understanding of the platform and what it’s capable of. There’s nothing worse than devoting tons of time and energy to a strategy only to realize you missed a really helpful feature early on. Manage your channel also provides a straightforward, detailed overview of getting started on YouTube, from what your dashboard looks like to managing channel memberships.

  • Choose a handle. If you already have a business/brand name, match your handle as closely as possible to that. This can sometimes be tricky on YouTube, where it feels like people have already claimed every username under the sun (this is one of the older social platforms!). If you’re having trouble securing the one you want, get as close as possible by adding a modifier like “Shop.” And if you only sell within a certain niche, you can probably get even more specific than that! “T-shirts,” “Apothecary,” “Supply…” a lot of different modifiers may fit your brand and can add a touch of helpful specificity to your handle. You do have to keep a character limit of 20 in mind, but this can actually be a good thing by forcing you to choose a short, punchy name.

    Once you have your handle selected, secure that same username on every social media account you can - even if you think you’re not going to use it. By keeping your name on social media consistent, you’ll make sure people always know how to find you.

  • Customize your channel. When you create a YouTube channel, you’ll get a “home” screen by default where users can go to find all of the videos you’ve uploaded, see any playlists you’ve created, and read more about you. You’ll have the option of adding one “channel trailer” video here, so you can showcase your best video or provide an introductory video overview of who you are. Take advantage of this by making sure one of your videos captures your brand in a broader way. So if you sell power equipment, for example, you’ll want at least one video that can capture your shop and offerings as a whole, rather than having nothing but reviews specific power tools you carry.

    On YouTube, SEO is important.

    For your business description, you’re allowed up to 1000 characters, which is the size of a paragraph (this paragraph, the one you’re currently reading, is 687 characters - so you could add about 30% more to this). If you’ve run business accounts on social media before, you’re going to follow similar best practices (use your brand voice, say who you are, make it punchy and intriguing) with one difference: keywords. On YouTube, SEO is important. That begins with adding a couple of keywords into your description as naturally as possible. Can’t add them naturally? Rethink your keywords. When in doubt, choose user experience and writing quality over your ability to get keywords in.

    Link to your website in the description, and it’s good practice to do so only after giving people an incentive to visit, along with a call to action.

    Finally, add your brand logo as your channel icon, making sure that it’s clear and that it has the appropriate dimensions and resolution for the space you’re given (a small square).

Creating Your Videos

Once you create your channel, you’re going to want something to upload. To figure out what and how, let’s first remember the money-making strategies we’re focused on for ecommerce businesses:

  • Discoverable videos for leads and new customers
  • Practical videos to help out current/prospective customers

Those can be two very different things — or they can be part of the exact same strategy. For example, let’s say your goal is to produce practical, helpful videos for your customers so they can make more informed choices while they’re on your website, but your product reviews end up being so helpful that they actually pull in other people who are in the market for those same products. If part of your brand identity involves being an expert in the space, then you can easily bridge these videos into a broader strategy built around educational videos.

The most popular brand genre is the how-to genre, and for a small business budget, it’s the one we recommend.

The type of content you produce will depend on your brand voice, audience and resources. In fact, there’s such a variety of options that it’s hard to universalize! Options include: educational videos, tutorials, product reviews, funny or viral-friendly videos, responses to current events, responses to memes or challenges, blog-style lists that are visually appealing, customer stories, employee stories and behind-the-scenes videos, contests, and straightforward commercials. The most popular brand genre is the how-to genre, and for a small business budget, it’s the one we recommend. - how-to videos don’t have to be flashy as long as they clearly and helpfully communicate what the viewer is there to learn, and they position the brand as one that was built by people who really know the products and industry.

Once you know what you’re going to make, let’s talk quality. On YouTube, quality varies according to the context — a user would be put off by a low-quality commercial, but they’d be less concerned about the quality of a how-to video (as long as it’s watchable). At a minimum, you’ll want to allocate time to writing a script or blocking out a plan, a smartphone, a tripod,  dedicated space to film (ie, not in a spot where there’s ambient noise or people milling around), at least one person who can watch/hold/adjust the camera and let you know if you’re speaking too quietly or standing in a shadow and time for post-production.

That’s a bare minimum if you have zero resources and want to get started tomorrow, but we’d recommend more: a non-smartphone camera, a mic (which very nearly made it into the “bare minimum” category), a paid editing program and a person on the team who specifically understands video production. Even the bare minimum takes resources — and if you’re going to spend those — you may as well dedicate enough to hitting a higher bar of professionalism.

Feeling too resource-strapped to make all that happen? Consider a freelance filmmaker or production company. Because of its steep learning curve, the equipment it takes, the quality difference, and the amount of time the entire process takes a professional versus an amatuer, video production is one of the smartest things to outsource.

If you stay DIY,  then read up on your production best practices and film your video in a well-lit, quiet room without a lot of visual clutter.

You may decide never to pick up a camera at all, relying instead on stock footage, stills, voiceover and some skillful editing. This can also be an effective strategy, but you’re going to want to pay even more attention to the writing and pacing to make sure it’s perfect! In this case, you’re using visuals to enhance what could stand on its own as compelling, concise written content.

Uploading Your Videos

So the video is complete and edited - time to put your new smash hit on YouTube! You’ll find it very easy and intuitive to upload your video, and for the video’s title, description, and tags, you’ll almost want to think of that video as if it’s a page on a website. So web best practices will apply when it comes to considering keywords and making sure you can smoothly add those keywords into the title, description and tags. YouTube is a search engine, and discoverable videos are the result of good SEO.

What do you want to title your video? There’s a really good chance your keywords are already in there.

Fortunately, YouTube SEO is less complicated than website SEO. And keyword research, in particular, is less complicated. Because there’s less competition on YouTube (it might not feel that way, but it’s true), you don’t have to scour so hard to find the sweet spot between high searchability and low competition. Moreover, because people don’t use many long-tail searches when they’re looking for videos, you’ve narrowed down your pool of keyword options significantly. Search behavior on YouTube is straightforward — think “birdhouse tutorial” or “how to build a birdhouse,” not “how do I get started building birdhouses?” like you’d see on Google. What do you want to title your video? There’s a really good chance your keywords are already in there.

For your description, you have two main goals: get your audience to watch your video, and get your audience to visit your site. Best practices apply, complete with incentives, a call to action and a link to your website. Summarize what’s happening in the video in a way that gets people intrigued, and use a descriptive voice that matches the voice of your brand. Prioritize the information in the first three lines, because the rest will be hidden behind a click-to-expand.

Engagement Matters

Once you have your video uploaded and optimized, time to sit back and wait, right? Unless it’s embedded on your site and specifically for your customers, probably not. If you want to have a discoverable video, you’re going to have to engage with people. Engagement looks a little different on YouTube than on other social platforms – you can comment on videos all day, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people will click on your comment to see your video. We recommend keeping your YouTube commenting highly focused and relevant, providing directly related information. If someone needs help with something and you/your video can provide the answer, offer to help them! The more useful you can be, the better.

If you want to have a discoverable video, you’re going to have to engage with people.

However, when it comes to engagement, YouTube is unique from the other social media channels in that some of your best promotional work can be done off the platform. Remember, YouTube videos sit somewhere in between a landing page on a website and a social media account, which means you can market them as you would your website. This includes sharing them on other social media page and posting them on your blog.

Influencers

Now for the secret sauce of making money with YouTube – influencers! As you work on growing and developing your own audience, you can give it a healthy kickstart by “borrowing” the trustworthiness and popularity of an existing YouTube influencer. There are two main ways to do this: paying for ads through YouTube or paying for the influencer to discuss your product in a sponsored video. If you pay for ads, then your ad will appear on a video that has accrued enough popularity to be monetized by YouTube: at minimum, 4,000 hours of watch time and 1000 subscribers.

Of course, paying for an ad means you need to have a commercial produced, and you’ll be showing that commercial to an audience that isn’t there to watch your ad. To harness the full power of an influencer, it’s best to find somebody who’s a good fit for your brand/target audience and have them promote your product or brand directly via a product review, demo, or unboxing. This adds a layer of credibility and transparency (a good influencer will always be transparent about sponsored videos) and grants you access to an audience whose trust has already been earned.

Because of the time and work involved in producing a video and the integrity the influencer wants to maintain by providing entertaining, useful content whether the post is sponsored or not, sometimes sponsored videos don’t come cheap — but they’re also not as expensive as you’d think. Influencers get to set their own pricing, and most of them use a standard rule of thumb and multiply their average view count by 5 to 15 cents per view, so on average you can expect to pay $200 to $500 per video. This works out to around the same amount as a YouTube ad.  

...a good influencer will always be transparent about sponsored videos.

Is the price worth it? It can be! But you’ll have to do a little more research on your influencer than just the view count calculation. The amount of engagement they’re getting — comments, shares and likes — is more important. And you can assume that the more specific the comment, the more the audience is actually engaged in the subject.

Also, the more the influencer’s target audience lines up with yours, the more generous you should be in your assumptions about the view count (and price accordingly). Someone “only” might get an average of 4,000 views per video, but if you sell power tools and they review power tools specifically, then every single view should be worth more to you than a generic YouTube celebrity or product reviewer.

For more on what to look for in an influencer and how to find them, read YouTube’s guide to paid product placement.

Keeping Up With It All

If you’re used to managing other social media accounts for your business, you might find the idea of keeping up with a YouTube strategy especially daunting, since posting best practices on the other platforms start with a frequency of 1 per day. You might also be worried about when to post — mornings or evenings? Weekends or week days? The good news is, frequency and momentum-building are yet another area where YouTube is different from the other social media channels. Because of the time it takes to make and view a video, quality is a lot more important than quantity. You content has more sticking power too — people can revisit or discover it later, you can repurpose it for other social channels, and you can build a marketing strategy around it.

That means when it comes to videos, only produce the amount you are capable of without sacrificing quality or full optimization of the video. Aim for more frequent videos if you can because each one is a different chance to see what resonates with your audience and the more you make, the likelier you are to produce one that gains traction. But even if you can only make one video, if it’s great and it’s accompanied by a thorough engagement strategy, it’s going to be better than making 100.

Because of the time it takes to make and view a video, quality is a lot more important than quantity.

So find your niche, grab a camera, and start sharing what you’re passionate about!

Have any tips for how to make money with YouTube? Share your thoughts with us below!

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