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Went from 4,000 to 140,000 YouTube subscribers in one year

I run Coder Coder, a blog that helps beginners learn front-end web development.

The blog began in the summer of 2017, and I also started a YouTube channel and published one video that year. Then left it mostly dormant for the next year or two, with occasional videos every few months. Wasn't focused on it too much at that point.

In March of 2020, I got back into creating YouTube content more consistently, and had nearly 4,000 subscribers.

By January of 2021 I broke 100,000 subs, and currently I'm at over 140,000 subscribers and getting ~300,000 views per month.

What happened in that year? A couple of things:

Graph of SocialBlade subscribers and YouTube analytics views, showing a peak in July 2020 and Jan 2021

I had three videos go viral that year.

The first video, Learn web development as an absolute beginner, was published in 2019 and didn't grow too much at the beginning. But when I started posting more consistently in March of 2020 (you can see the gray squares for each upload), the YouTube algorithm randomly decided to show it to lots of people. That video has just over 900,000 views, and I'm anticipating it will hit 1 million views in a couple of months.

You can also see in that graph that I didn't upload any videos between July and November. I was helping to take care of a family member that summer and fall, and just didn't have the bandwidth to think about content creation during that time (everything is fine now, by the way).

A few months after I started making videos again, I had two videos go viral at the same time. They were both timelapses of me building a website. The first video was only 90 seconds long, and was actually a clip of the second, longer video.

I'm honestly not sure why people liked those videos so much more than my other tutorials. I guess people enjoy watching timelapses of building things? 😂

I've definitely learned a lot, but am still always learning and testing different strategies in content creation.

Here are my takeaways for growing on YouTube!

Pick a niche and help the algorithm

The most important thing is to know what your channel will be about. Don't mix in random vlogs on gardening with technical SEO videos. It will only confuse YouTube and annoy your audience.

However you can be flexible within your general category. For example, in the coding niche you can mix in coding tutorials, gear reviews, and career advice. If you think someone in your target audience would enjoy the video, go ahead and try!

Know your audience

Knowing your audience is super important. If you're going for the educational angle, find out what pain points they struggle with the most. Spend time where your audience hangs out online and see what questions they ask. Slack channels, Reddit, Facebook groups, Quora and message forums are a gold mine of information.

Keep your audience engaged

When watching a video your task is to keep the viewer watching. Our attention spans are small, and it's way too easy to click off to another video if the current one gets boring.

In particular, the first 30 seconds are the most important, as the majority of viewers will click out of the video as soon as it starts. Don't waste time shooting the breeze in the intro of your video-- get into the meat of your video as quickly as possible.

Another tip I've found is to watch your own videos before uploading. If you notice your own attention dropping at any point, that's a good bet that your audience will click away during those moments too.

Good writing and editing > fancy video effects

If you've seen my videos, you may have noticed that I have a lot of animations and a pretty high production value. I'm super fortunate to be married to a professional video editor/animator. And yes, while fancy video effects can help keep things fresh, the most important part of the video is the content itself, and the writing.

If you're a one-person show, and not super experienced in video, you can still make an engaging video. Some basic things you can do is try to cut out long pauses and again, make sure your intro is brief and to the point.

Try experimenting with background music that helps add some energy to videos. YouTube has an audio library with tracks that you can safely add to your videos without the risk of getting DMCA'd.

Also try adding in B-roll-- secondary video that's in addition to your main A-roll footage. B-roll could be shots of the location, objects, or stock video. Basically anything that isn't just your talking head. One popular place to get stock video is StoryBlocks.

Ad lib speaking or scripted?

I'm a terrible off-the-cuff speaker. I think a lot before I speak, which leads to a lot of ums, ahs, and awkward pauses. I have definitely improved over the course of making videos, but it doesn't really come naturally to me at all.

One way around that is to script out videos before recording. It does take a lot of time to write out every exact word that I'm going to say, but it makes the recording process a lot quicker and less painful. There are pretty reasonably priced teleprompters that hook onto your DSLR camera-- I use one called the Padcaster Parrot that works really well.

But in general, whether you're reading off a teleprompter or speaking naturally, always keep things moving. Know what your video will be about before hitting the record button, and keep things focused.

One writing technique that helps is to use open loops in your writing. This means posing some sort of question or problem, and resolving it at the end of the video. Your audience will keep watching to see what happens. Mark Rober (of glitterbomb viral fame) is a genius at this.

This brings me to the next point:

Study successful channels and your own!

Being open to critiquing yourself and learning from others will help you improve. Watch videos of big channels both in and outside of your niche and get an idea of what techniques they use that you could use in your own videos.

A couple companies that are doing really well on YouTube are Ahrefs (SEO SaaS) and Firebox Stove (physical product).

For your own channel, the YouTube Studio analytics has a ton of data that will help you see what's working and what isn't. For each video, you can see how engaged your audience is throughout the video and how viewers found your video in the first place.

Listen to your audience

The YouTube comments section is often a dumpster fire. But you can also glean a lot of helpful info from how people are responding to your video. Just, y'know, ignore all the flame comments 😂

I'll often get video ideas based off of what commenters are requesting the most. For example, one of the comments I get the most is what VS Code theme I'm using in my videos. Because of the sheer number of people asking, I created a VS Code theme and am also making a video about how to make your own VS Code theme.

Quality over quantity

People often think that to succeed on YouTube you have to keep feeding the algorithm as many videos as possible. They may try to create something like 3, 5 or even more videos per week. But that's a recipe for burnout.

I've found that most of the YouTubers in my niche stick to 1-2 videos per week. I personally do 1 video per week, and I don't anticipate doing more frequently than that anytime soon.

While it is good to have some consistency on YouTube, what's more important than the frequency is the quality of your videos. In my opinion it's better to have one great video a month than 10 mediocre videos a month. Because mediocre videos won't retain viewers, and therefore have a much lower chance of getting picked up by the algorithm.

Thanks for reading!

I hope this has helped you if you're interested in getting into YouTube. Feel free to ask any questions :)

  1. 3

    Thanks for these tips, Jessica. Really appreciate the work you put into this.

    The biggest thing I've taken away from this is even if you start and stop for a period of time and then come back, you can still grow your channel successfully!

    So many doomsayers say if you stop posting regular videos for any period of time, your channel is pretty much dead and will take a monumental amount of work to kickstart it again.

    1. 2

      Definitely-- it may have been true in the past, but YT is a lot more forgiving currently. The most important factor now is how well each video does, because most people will find videos to watch from the Home screen. That means that unless you have the bell turned on, subscribers may not see your videos if they don't engage with previous ones.

  2. 3

    Congrats on your insane growth!!! That is incredible Jessica.

    Thank you for sharing all your tips and that as well. Do you post content anywhere else besides your blog and youtube channel? Have you not used social media to grow?

    1. 2

      Thanks! I am on Twitter and Instagram as @thecodercoder. I actually did an interview with Courtland on the podcast a while ago on my Instagram growth.

      I'm currently focused on YouTube, as it has more long-term potential and not as fleeting as social media. But am planning on focusing back on Insta and Twitter (and YouTube shorts) later this year.

      1. 2

        I just gave you a follow on IG... nice stuff

        Have you never thought about breaking down your youtube videos into smaller clips and posting on IGTV/IG/TikTok?

        That's actually how I got into coding/saas as I found a coder on TikTok creating mini videos on stuff - it might be an insane growth hack for you?

        1. 2

          Yes exactly! I'm currently focusing on finishing creating a course. But once that's out, the plan is to make short form content later this year for IG reels, YouTube shorts, etc. I'm personally not really into TikTok but I know people can grow like crazy there, so maybe!

          1. 1

            As you seem like an expert on this sort of stuff now, I would be hella interested in what you thought of this concept?

            https://getspread.io/contentrepurposing/?nocache=69827

  3. 3

    Jesus. Your thumbnails, titles, audio, editing, graphics, and content are all on point.

    Don't know how I missed your channel until now but glad I found it. Awesome work.

  4. 2

    Would you be willing to share/ make a video showing your YouTube analytics? Audience retention, reach, subscribers, etc.

    1. 1

      I'm not planning on making videos about being a YouTuber, but here are some of my general stats that you wouldn't be able to find on Socialblade. Feel free to ask any more specific ones.

      Avg CTR: 3.6%
      Avg view duration: 3:20
      Avg RPM: $3-4
      Returning vs New viewers: tends to be roughly the same, with new viewers slightly more except when I release a new video

      1. 1

        Thank you- great stats! I had no idea about Socialblade- thank you for that, too!

  5. 2

    Congrats on your success! And very reasonable, easy-to-implement advice you gave! Do you plan to devote more time to YouTube now that it's going so well (or are you already in full-time mode)?

    1. 2

      Thanks for reading! Currently the plan is to finish working on a course (helping beginners code a responsive website from scratch) which I'm hooooping to release this summer. So I will likely be taking a break from regular content creation for a month or so.

      I'm also quitting my FT job in a couple days to focus on this full-time. I'm making some money from YouTube and my blog, but there's a definite gap that I'm hoping my course will help me meet. So it'll be an exciting slightly scary few months coming up! 😂

  6. 2

    Thanks for sharing these Jessica! Your channel looks dope and also your vibe and energy feels great - Subscribed and turned on notifications to get inspired :D

    I really want to get into videos as well at some point in the future and create UX-related videos but for now I focus on writing on Twitter and my newsletter.

    Keep it up and all the best!

    1. 1

      Thanks so much! UX videos sound awesome :D

  7. 2

    Quality post. Bookmarked !
    Did you try to monetize your audience ? Besides putting ads.
    Building a YouTube channel is part of my content marketing plan to sell dev related tools, but I'm not sure if youtube is the right channel to sell to developers.
    Edit : just watched some videos of yours, production level is amazing. Were you anxious in the beginning about putting yourself in front of the camera ? If so how did you overcome the anxiety ?

    1. 2

      @thecodercoder's story is on the IH pod. When I listened to it a while back, I recall that this was part of future plans - making videos and making an online course. Cool to see the journey.

    2. 1

      Thanks! I have some affiliate links, but mainly I'm planning on monetizing with a course that I'm in the process of creating. I think it's possible to sell things like dev tools to your audience, like if you can show how they work in videos. If you can find an intersection of developer topics that blend well with your tools then you may be able to get customers that way.

      Thanks for checking out the channel! I wasn't super anxious, but definitely have gotten a lot more comfortable speaking on camera. You can check out my oldest videos to compare-- they're a bit cringe-worthy but also fun to see how I've improved over time! 😂

  8. 1

    @thecodercoder Great post. I love your channel. I am trying to get some feedback on an idea I have. https://www.indiehackers.com/post/why-you-lose-money-as-a-creator-f686d826b8

  9. 1

    Good post Jessica, can definitely attest to how important picking a niche is—I made a tutorial on JavaScript Canvas games (not taught often) and another on just basic HTML (everyone has a video on it), not surprisingly, the game vid out performed the basic HTML one with seven times more views in four less months (~70,000 to ~10,000).

    I've never had a video go viral, even with 42k total subs, but looking to see if I can make it happen this year—definitely taking your tips into account :)

  10. 1

    Congrats on your success!

    Your advice is sound and as always consistency, quality, and knowing your audience is important.

    I think and also heard from fellow YouTubers that it's the first 4000 even first 100 subscribers that is difficult to acquire. So if someone has got from 0 - 4000 in one year or less, preferable without using paid ads it would be a very interesting read.

  11. 1

    Thanks for sharing :)

  12. 1

    nice one Jessica!
    Really sweet that you had the bandwidth do to all this and happy that it paid off in the end. I just watched the first intro video. As someone learning coding just now you explained it beautifully.
    Keep up the good work

  13. 1

    Fantastic read, and great work @thecodercoder!

  14. 1

    I really appreciate this post. I have ben considering starting a youtube channel for awhile now so I enjoy reading how people grew their own channel.

    1. 1

      Awesome, thanks for reading!

  15. 1

    Congrats, Jessica! Your videos are amazing!

  16. 1

    First off: CONGRATS - that's awesome !

    I agree with every point you made. Lots of people suggest pumping out videos for the algorithm etc, which may have been effective at one time, but isn't anymore.

    My channel has 3k subs and I've only posted 3 vids and I'm doing everything you suggested. I can confirm their effectiveness.

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrhM0tPz7bFPV5I3tPF-TVw

    1. 1

      That's awesome growth. You're in a very interesting niche!

  17. 1

    Thanks, Jessica! Your insights are helpful!

  18. 1

    Great article with lots of useful information. Thanks!
    I'm at the very beginning of my YouTube journey with only 8 videos (4 of them are #shorts, and 2 more are currently being edited). The beginning is definitely frustrating but I've chosen my niche (the business of Programming) and I'm optimistic.

    1. 1

      That sounds like a cool niche! Best of luck with your channel.

  19. 1

    That's amazing @thecodercoder! Happy to learn this, congratulations :)

  20. 1

    Just wanted to say I love your channel and I hope you keep posting quality content :)

    1. 1

      Thanks so much, and for watching!!

  21. 1

    Congrats! Amazing Post and great Channel.

  22. 1

    Thanks for sharing! These are really great tips that will help me improve the quality of content I'm creating on my channel. Congrats on 140k!

    1. 1

      Thanks! Best of luck with your channel :)

  23. 1

    Wow! This is a lot of useful information. Thanks for sharing all these insights.

    I checked your channel (and subscribed) and the content and the production are top level!

    1. 1

      Hey, thanks so much! Hope it can be helpful!

  24. 0

    Hi Jessica @thecodercoder, I found your article very useful and helpful. Thanks for sharing your tips! I'm planning to implement them on our YT channel.
    If you're thinking of sharing your videos on social media, you may want to try Piktostory (www.piktostory.com).
    This video editing platform turns longer videos into multiple, bite-size clips ready to be shared on any social platform. It works by editing the transcript and helps to drive up engagement for your videos. Very easy and time-saving tool.

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