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