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Benji Travis & Tom Ross

If you struggle with YouTube, aren't seeing the results you'd like, or are looking for a deeper understanding of how YouTube works, then grab your headphones and hit play on this episode.

Video Content

Making sense of YouTube

People love YouTube for a variety of reasons, but it's most popular use: search engine. Unsure how to cut that mango? Here are twelve videos that will teach you.

But how do you become that coveted top search result? The best of the best mango-cutting videos, so to speak. The not-so-secret key to success on YouTube is understanding how it works.

In this episode, Chris is joined by Tom Ross, CEO and co-founder of designcuts.com, and Benji Travis, a veteran YouTuber and influencer coach. If you haven't guessed already, this episode is all about YouTube. Specifically, how to find meaningful success on the platform.

If you struggle with YouTube, aren't seeing the results you'd like, or are looking for a deeper understanding of how YouTube works, then grab your headphones and hit play on this episode.

Dec 28

Making sense of YouTube

A crash course in all things YouTube

People love YouTube for a variety of reasons, but it's most popular use: search engine. Unsure how to cut that mango? Here are twelve videos that will teach you.

But how do you become that coveted top search result? The best of the best mango-cutting videos, so to speak. The not-so-secret key to success on YouTube is understanding how it works.

In this episode, Chris is joined by Tom Ross, CEO and co-founder of designcuts.com, and Benji Travis, a veteran YouTuber and influencer coach. If you haven't guessed already, this episode is all about YouTube. Specifically, how to find meaningful success on the platform.

If you struggle with YouTube, aren't seeing the results you'd like, or are looking for a deeper understanding of how YouTube works, then grab your headphones and hit play on this episode.

About
Greg Gunn

Greg Gunn is an illustrator, animator and creative director in Los Angeles, CA. He loves helping passionate people communicate their big ideas in fun and exciting ways.

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A crash course in all things YouTube

Episode Transcript

Benji:

YouTube is a better platform today than ever before. Better than 2008 when I started, better than 2005 when it was launched, better than last year. I sat across the dining room table with a guy who runs the algorithm. We shared a bottle of red wine and he literally told me the secret of the algorithm.

Tom:

Hey Chris, good to see you again. I missed you. I'm glad we're talking about this. I am, as you say, the CEO and founder at designcuts.com. We're one of the bigger design marketplaces. We've done some great partnerships in the past, with Quest and The Futur, and I'm really here to be a sponge. I want to learn. Chris, you crush it on YouTube. We've seen some humble success, but I feel like we've never really cracked YouTube as a platform, and I haven't either with my personal brand. And so, I just want to soak up as much as I can and hopefully that's going to bring value for the business as well.

Chris:

Wonderful. I've invited some of my friends. There's Benji. Benji's also a YouTuber. I just want to let you guys know how I started making content on YouTube. In, I guess it was late 2013, a friend of mine, Jose Caballer, who is an Art Center classmate of mine, he said, "Let's make content on YouTube in order for us to promote our product. We had a course called CORE and it was the framework. And the way that we were able to build interest in not only a product but ourselves was to create a YouTube video.

Now, I'm 42 years old at this time and I was thinking, "I don't want anything to do with YouTube." And I have many misconceptions about YouTube and a bias, and I want to share this openly, and you could ridicule me if you wish, but I thought that YouTube, based on the kinds of content I saw at that time, especially in the design space, was filled with amateurs and self-taught people. And I can tell, because when they were trying to teach design, they were teaching really bad habits. And so, my association, my emotion, my feeling probably was a mask for my reluctance to step into that space.

I cast a pretty broad net across most of YouTube, and it's busy, successful professionals don't make content on YouTube. And boy, was I wrong. Luckily my friend Jose doesn't take no for an answer. He pulls me into this space. I start creating content. And like many creators, it took a really long time to figure out what kind of content to make, how to show up on camera, how to find your voice, and how to attract and bring an audience to you.

One of the biggest lessons I learned in the early days came when we made a very distinctive decision not to create content to promote our product. First of all, I never felt great about making videos to then only segue into a product pitch. It was not so cleverly disguised sales video. And although I made commercials for a living, I didn't want to make a commercial disguised as a piece of content. Our big growth spurt began by us deciding together, no more pitching and selling. We're just going to show up and we're going to teach. Both Jose and I are teachers. It's what we do. And we also made the decision to really work hard and prepare.

That was the very first time that we sat down and worked on a Keynote slide presentation to take people through an idea. What I didn't realize then that I now know is, when you create a transformation for people, when you help them to solve a problem, to ease their pain, or to help them win at something, they form some kind of connection to you. They become more curious. They might pay you with another view, they might reward you with a subscription, or to tell other people about what it is that you do. And it was a very slow and long climb. I remember when we hit 10,000 subscribers, I think it was over a year it took us to get to 10,000 subscribers. I was just thrilled beyond belief.

I'm going to pause there. That's how I got into this. I'm going to segue quickly over to Benji. Benji, how did you get into YouTube? What is your story? Can you tell us a short story about this?

Benji:

Thank you. Well, appreciate you inviting me in. Obviously I love YouTube. I started off 14 years ago in 2008. Like you, I thought of the platform as just a place for kids to watch silly videos. It really was not something I took seriously. My then girlfriend, who's now my wife, Judy, she wanted to start a beauty channel where she just shared her tips about makeup. I remember kind of laughing at her and thinking, "This is not something that's worth your time. You can't make money." And then a month later she started getting subscribers. I didn't think anything of it, but I did notice that she was growing an influence, people were starting to reach out to give her free makeup, and I thought, "This is something that could be a great hobby, especially if we don't have to go to the makeup store." That's how everything started.

She definitely got the last laugh, because 14 years later we're full-time YouTubers, we have a daily blog channel, and there's just so much in between obviously. But what I love is, I mean, to this day, YouTube lets people take their passion and make it into a profession. Obviously there's so many different ways to do that and different levels, but my wife and I, we're both still blogging to this day, five days a week. I wrote a book about YouTube called YouTube Secrets. We actually just wrote the second edition. And so, obviously, even though we started so long ago, I actually think the opportunity is greater now than ever. More people are using YouTube both as a place to consume content and also as a serious place to market whatever they're doing, whether it's a business, service, or a product.

Chris:

Benji, share with us some of the numbers. How many different YouTube things are you involved in? How many different channels? What are your subscribers? What numbers can you share with us, or are comfortable sharing?

Benji:

For sure. Right now my wife and I, our big focus is our daily blog channel. That's got almost 2 million subscribers. We've hit over a billion video views and we've been uploading content to that channel for a decade. Now, throughout my time on YouTube, I've started multiple businesses based off of my passion. I'm a huge believer that you should follow your passion and see where it leads, and YouTube is a great platform to do it.

Early on, one of the things I didn't mention when I was introducing myself, is I was a failing real estate agent. This was in 2008. Ironically I'm laughing at my wife for trying something new and really cool and I'm just basically losing everything during the real estate crash. A few years later I thought, "I'll start a YouTube channel for my real estate business." And I went from doing less than 10 properties a year to over a 100, made it into a million-dollar business. I've been able to start a food channel where I just share recipes. I love cooking and sharing my passion for food. And then my wife... Initially, before we were bloggers, she had a beauty channel. That's really what gave us our start professionally, making a profit.

There's just so many. And of course the way you and I probably know each other, Chris, is through a channel called Video Influencers. When I was writing my book with the co-author Sean Cannell, we thought, "You know what? Let's start a channel that's specifically for the purpose of connecting with the community that would benefit from our book." We thought that was going to be a six-month effort, because we thought that's how long it was going to take to write a book. Took us four years, but well worth it because of the different people we've been able to interview, including yourself. And so, Video Influencers, we've sold about 80,000 books because of that channel. But I'd say the opportunities that came from that channel outside of the book are way bigger. But what we're most proud of is that we've helped tens of thousands of creators get their start, or to continue to grow their influence and income on YouTube.

Chris:

You have 665,000 subscribers, so that's more than what you just cited there. Video Influencers. Well done there. Okay, I'm doing this conversation mostly because Tom wants help in growing his YouTube channel. I want to just turn this back over to Tom and we'll tackle this one idea at a time. And we can talk about the bigger YouTube strategy and also about this thing that many people refer to as the creator economy, where you as the creator can make content, self-publish, grow an audience, and build a business around this. Now, you may not get rich doing this, some of you will, but it's an alternative to going to a nine to five job. And luck would have it that last night I was at this event and I got to meet Colin and Samir. I chatted with Colin for about an hour or so, got to learn about his story, and it was very fascinating in how it parallels a lot of what we're all going through. So Tom, how do we best serve you in the next hour? What do we do?

Tom:

Thanks Chris. Well, as I said at the start, I'm definitely keen to serve all of the listeners primarily. As much as I would love to be selfish on this call. But I think really I'm probably a good representative for many of them. Because it's not that I haven't ever tried YouTube, it's not that we're dreaming about doing a YouTube and we haven't put the work in. We actually launched our YouTube for Design Cuts in 2015. We have 52,500 subscribers and we've had about 3.6 million views. To many people that may sound really, really good perhaps, but from our perspective, we've never really seen the kind of traction that we would really like to see. It's been nothing compared to, say, the future, both in terms of the organization, the strategy, the quality of content, and indeed the growth and the business results.

I know something that's frustrating, and maybe some people can relate, we certainly have some videos that have really popped. I think our most popular have several hundred thousand views. We have a few like that. But in terms of the regular videos we're putting out, often they just have a few hundred views. And when you have over 50,000 subscribers, that can feel a bit disheartening. I guess I'd love to know from yourself, Chris, and you Benji, is that normal? Does that feel like we're failing in terms of the engagement on our regular videos?

Chris:

Tom, I'd noticed something on your YouTube page, Design Cuts. You don't have a feature. Did you not feature any of your videos?

Tom:

I think we did a while ago and it became dated and we took it down and we haven't replaced it. Our YouTube, I would say, has been quite neglected. I'm even looking at it now and seeing all kinds of stuff that feels out of date or that we should be doing. But yeah, that's a great point. I'm noting it down.

Chris:

Okay.

Tom:

In terms of featured, I've seen when people do a channel intro, like, "Welcome to my channel."

Chris:

Yup.

Tom:

Do you advise that? Or do you advise just picking out a really good video that's been popular and pinning that by the feature?

Chris:

Okay. One thing is, when you start a YouTube channel, you're going to have a library of content. You need to organize that content in a way for people to be able to sort through it. And one of the ways that you can do is you can feature a video for new people and also returning subscribers, and those two things can help to boost the view count for video. Because immediately you notice, like when I landed on Benji's Video Influencers page, that trailer started playing. Whatever video he wanted me to see, I was going to see it.

I don't know how far of that I need to watch for it to count as a view, but we do know this: there is such a thing as social proof. When you're scanning for videos to watch on YouTube, if there's a tutorial, a how-to or some advice that you're giving and you want to get more views to it, and easy thing that you could do is to feature that for new viewers and subscribers so that it's going to add to the view count. So that when somebody's searching through and there's a whole bunch of videos that they have to choose which one they want to watch, most people pick the highest viewed video. And so, you're just throwing away views at this point.

It doesn't matter if it's an old video. I don't have a specific channel trailer, I just try to feature videos that I think are going to be transformative for people and make it easier for them to find. I'll pause there and throw this over to Benji.

Benji:

Well first off, I want to address what Chris Do said. I mean, I'm flattered that you would be nervous of what I would say or disagree with. I want to start off the conversation with saying there's no one way to do YouTube. Realize there's millions of different channels, there's hundreds of thousands of different niches and genres, different types of videos, different audiences. People use a platform in their own way, whether it's on the app on their phone, or on a desktop. Some people are now watching on their TV. The user behavior plus your industry, your business, plus the type of content, plus what you're trying to accomplish; all those variables will determine how you will be successful on YouTube. There are people, and I know this for a fact because I did this with my real estate business, and I know other real estate agents that have done this, with less than 100 views per video and they've been doing this for a year. Less than 5,000 subscribers, are making a million-plus dollars in their business.

There's people that get hundreds of thousands of views, maybe even a million-plus views on their videos, and they are barely making six figures. There isn't any one way. And the reason I discuss this is, even in my book, what Sean and I are most proud of when it comes to what we've been able to teach people, is the first seven chapters of our book are all principles. Principles that anybody can follow. But how much of each principle you apply and when you apply it is up to you and your circumstance.

So Tom, like you, everyone listening has to really assess where are they at in the content creation process. Do you have a lot of time? Because there's kids out there that are crushing it on this platform and it's because they literally have nothing else going on in their life except obsessing over YouTube videos, creating content, and thinking about the next video idea or the next viral upload for their channel. Versus I'm a father of four, I'm going to have a fifth girl in my life here soon. I'm married, I've got multiple businesses, so I can't obsess over YouTube like I once did. So, I take it with a grain of salt what I expect to do, because I want to put myself in a realistic place. And I think that's really healthy for everybody, because if you're not realistic, you're going to burn out. That's the first thing I want to say.

And then secondly, Tom, is there's two, I'd say, perspectives I would consider, and Chris is very good at this. The first perspective is, are you helping somebody with your video? You talk about how it's disheartening with 50,000 subscribers that you're only getting 184 views, right? I'm looking at your last upload. But ask yourself, did you really help somebody with that video? And if you felt like you helped somebody, mission accomplished. The second part is, are you helping YouTube to get the right content to more people for you? When you combine the two, that's where you're going to see that kind of growth, and understanding how YouTube works is so important for that growth.

Of course I know that you probably appreciate any view that you get and that you're helping people. But if you step back and consider those two goals, and if you can accomplish both, I believe you and so many other people would have a lot more traction on YouTube. Because sometimes we get so focused on the views, not understanding what does a view mean, and what is it that YouTube needs us to do for them for them to help us be successful. Because realize, the number one thing about YouTube, it is a search engine and now it's a platform that people go to to hang out. Whether it's to get entertained, just scratch an itch, go down a rabbit hole of a certain hobby or passion of theirs. And you need to create content not only that helps that one person that might stumble on your video or needs your help, but also understanding that YouTube needs your video to be a certain way so that it can deliver it to the most amount of people. If you're not doing that, it could still accomplish mission one, but mission two, I would say, is just as important for that growth. We can get into that, Chris, but of course that's a longer conversation.

Chris:

Wonderful. Thanks for sharing that. My number one strategy has always been, if you create really good content, you won't have to worry too much about algorithms and hacks and tricks and tips and things like that. The goal always is to focus on high quality content.

When I say that, I'm not referring to high quality production. I'm really talking about taking the time to sit there and think of a lesson or a way that you can help someone. Now, I'm saying this because I'm also very biased, because I'm an educator. I self-identify as one. I'm not that interested in making entertainment videos, even though they perform really well. If that's your jam, make entertainment videos and just figure out what can you do to drive entertainment and watchability. There's going to be some general strategies that I'm going to talk about in terms of creating content in what's worked for us, and maybe we can dive a little bit deeper.

A couple things to keep in mind. There are generally two types of channels. Ones that are topic specific, like how Benji mentioned his wife runs a makeup channel. There might be a vlogging channel where they just talk about their daily lives. Or how he started another channel to focus specifically on food. We find that topic channels that are focused on one topic perform really well, because your audience knows what to expect. It's the same reason why I think certain magazines are successful, because they pick a specific focus, they have an editorial point of view, and whenever you buy the magazine, you can expect to see content that you've seen before in terms of your expectations are met. You wouldn't want to pick up a magazine about running shoes and then see things about cars in there. It might not make sense for you.

And conversely, there's this magazine called Recoil, which is about survival equipment and living off grid, so anything that's related to that will probably be in that magazine. If you bounce from topic to topic, you enter into a different type of channel, which is more personality driven. This could be like a PewDiePie channel where PewDiePie will talk about anything he wants to talk about. Or I forget his channel name, but I think he goes by MoistCr1TiKaL. He'll just critique and make fun, or open Pokemon cards. Because it's really... Charlie does this. He's very personality driven. And so, if you're just starting out, you have to ask yourself, do I want to be personality driven where people are going to tune in to listen to me, to hear my point of view on a variety of topics, or I'm going to focus on something very specific.

Now Tom, of the two, which one do you lean towards?

Tom:

I think for our channel 100% topic driven. We're trying to provide educational content for designers.

Chris:

Okay, so topic driven. Can we drill in a little bit deeper? Because one of the things when we talk about marketing is to split the market. If you do things for creative people, can you split the market and become a little bit narrower in your focus so that it's easier for people to say why I would watch Design Cuts versus another channel. It becomes clear. What are your thoughts on that?

Tom:

Yeah. In a sense we cater to the same audience, but you're obviously coming from that specific niche of business. The business of design. In our case, our channel wraps around our key business as a marketplace where we provide assets that they let people create really beautiful design work. Our channel is very much predicated on tutorials really, and you can see on the channel we have Procreate tutorials, Photoshop tutorials, Illustrated tutorials and that kind of thing. And our current content strategy has been that we have weekly live workshops, and basically all we're doing is we're recording those workshops and then uploading it to our YouTube channel.

Chris:

Okay, so you create tutorials using assets available from your marketplace?

Tom:

Yeah, pretty much. It's very much a soft upsell. You don't have to buy anything. Plenty of people watch the tutorials and just learn useful techniques. But if they're interested to download any of the assets used, it's linked in the description and so on.

Benji:

Tom, I've been able to dive into your channel Design Cuts, and it's a hard pill to swallow when you realize you've got to do something different. Obviously that's why you're here. And by the way, you're not the only person. I understand that that happens to all of us, all creators. This is why it's important to always grow and to optimize, understand that there's other channels coming into the space. But all just echo what Chris said: really simplifying your message, simplifying what your value proposition is. This is where I would not necessarily disagree with Chris, but I think it's important to understand the algorithm. Now, you don't have to hack the algorithm, or work the algorithm, or do any specific special strategies. Just understanding. And when you're understanding the algorithm, you're really understanding the behavior of the user or the viewer on the other side.

When I go through your channel, all those things that you told Chris about your channel is not necessarily what I see. Now, the titles might actually be what you're talking about, and I'm sure the thumbnails reflect the content in those videos. But one tip I got from somebody, a very successful YouTuber who also is successful on Instagram, TikTok, I mean, we're talking tens of millions of followers, is somebody should be able to go to your channel and, without reading anything, understand what your content is about. Now, you may see other channels, and I think Chris' The Futur channel is a good example right now; there's a ton of short content. I'm sure, Chris, you probably would agree, we wish there was a way we could sort out the videos, because you can't really choose the thumbnails on shorts. Or at least it's probably not worth it. But when somebody scrolls through your library, Tom, people should understand what you're about.

And it's interesting, Chris, I believe that graphic designers both are some of the best people when it comes to designing thumbnails and also the worst. The reason is, it's not that they don't know how to do great design, but typically graphic design people are working off of a laptop or a computer with a big screen, so you're often designing these images that look great on a 19-inch monitor, doesn't look so simple and clear on a one by two inch thumbnail on your phone. That's a little constructive criticism for you to go back to your channel, Tom, and really think about, are these thumbnails speaking to the potential viewer. Not even the viewer, just somebody that is scrolling through their search results about what is in the content.

One thing I do believe more and more, and this is not just because Mr Beast does it, but even in our vlog channel, when it comes to thumbnails, we are simplifying it to the point where can we remove all of the text? Because realize, the title is already doing that work for you. The thumbnail really is just like a banner. Think of the billboards on the street. Obviously some billboards have writing on them, but it's really the image that captures your attention, and it's the same way with thumbnails.

Now, by the way, obviously this isn't going to solve all your problems, Tom. And Chris, I know that there's so much more to YouTube than just thinking about your thumbnail. But I'm just using this as a reference, because when I go through your channel, Tom, right now, that is probably one of the things that isn't serving you well, just because you probably assume people want these type of thumbnails. But again, going back to the whole why swallowing the reality pill can be hard, but it's necessary to understand that, because ultimately it's about what the user behavior is looking for, or will get their interests or their attention so that they can get to the content in your videos.

Tom:

Great point with the responsive nature of thumbnails, needing to work at these tiny sizes. I know we haven't connected before. First of all, great to meet you and I really appreciate the feedback. Second of all, please be as absolutely brutal as you want to be. I promise I will not be offended. I'm here to learn. I think everyone's here to learn. So if you want to rip the channel apart, I promise it will be appreciated.

Chris:

This is just all constructive criticism in using best practices. Okay. So we already know this, that it's a search-driven social media app, right? Or platform. And so, the two things that are going to drive... or the primary thing that's going to drive the search is your title, so thinking about your title is really important in terms of what somebody might actually type in when they're looking for your video. This is how we had to start thinking about our end user, our audience, and how they search for things. Oftentimes with my team, they're using terms that only someone who would know the answer to the problem would be able to type, like how to overcome client objections regarding payment terms. Something like that. And it's like, "Well, do normal people type that in?" Maybe some people do, but maybe they're just typing in, "How to deal with difficult clients." They're not as specific.

You have to understand how people search and what they're typing in. That wasn't a great example. I apologize. But sometimes my team will use very specific industry jargon in the title itself. And if you already knew that term, you probably don't need to know the answer to that, because you already understand the concept. We have to think simply. And so, when Benji was talking about the thumbnail, think about your titles in a very simple way.

There's a couple of problems with the titles that I'm seeing right now. The ones that have done really well for you, and maybe Benji's going to disagree with me here, they all begin with Photoshop tutorial and then you get to the actual content. How to create a wedding. You might try and experiment with this a little bit and should try and switch and do AB testing. There's several tools that you can use out there. One of them is called... I think it's called Tube Buddy. And you can AB test titles and thumbnails to see which one performs better than the other. You have to AB test it and then eventually you'll figure out our audience is looking for these types of videos with these types of titles.

Then the other thing that you want to do is you're going to want to look at your click-through rate, your CTR, of your videos. I'm curious, if you were to take one that's performing really well and an average one and see if you can glean any differences between that. If you don't mind, you could do this in the background. Open up your highest viewed video, the one with 326,000 views, the wedding tutorial one, and pick a different video, any random video, and look at your CTR. Look at your retention rate and see if you can see any differences between those two, and we can dive a little bit more into that.

What Benji said about the thumbnail's super important, and we probably mess up all the time on this, because we love to design too. But I could tell you one thing that's problematic already with your livestreams or the videos that you upload, is you put the person's face in the lower right corner, which is the one area where you don't want to put anything that's important, because the length to the video covers up their faces. You don't want to do that. The other thing is, people overemphasize importance of someone's face. If they're not a well-known person, seeing that person's face, and especially if it's not well photographed, isn't going to do anything for the video. Because as I'm scrolling through my search results or recommendations, I'm looking for something that would pull me in. And if you want to study a channel, Matthew Encina, he does a great job. He's very thoughtful and intentional in how he designs the thumbnails. He does a ton of testing. And so, if you want to see a thumbnail that pulls you in, check out his channel.

Greg Gunn:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

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Greg Gunn:

Welcome back to our conversation.

Chris:

To get back to one of the things I wanted to talk about a little bit, which was, what is the goal of you creating a YouTube channel? If you can be clear about that. And you're probably thinking, "What do you mean? Aren't all of our goals the same?" Now, Benji already talked about this, so just try to think through this. What is your goal? How will you measure success? Will it be the number of subscribers, the number of views that you get, the minutes and hours that are watched? Maybe the revenue that you're able to generate on YouTube specifically, and also the promotion that it can provide for the products and services that you ultimately sell. If you can identify what your goals are, or goal, then you can identify the correct strategy to help you best achieve that goal. Identify that first.

So Tom, I want you to think about that. What is your primary goal of creating videos on YouTube?

Tom:

To drive revenue to our marketplace, which we already do. We drive about $10,000 a month, but we'd like to scale it.

Chris:

Okay, so you want to use YouTube as a marketing platform to drive people off platform to investigate Design Cuts. Is that right?

Tom:

Yeah, exactly. We provide free, helpful, educational content they can enjoy, and then kind of through osmosis they get intrigued and say, "Oh, that looks like an interesting brush, or a time saving template that's featured in this tutorial. I want to go check it out."

Chris:

Okay. I want to pause on that. That's very clear. That's a very similar strategy to what Jose and I did in the early days of The Futur's channel, which is we wanted people to become aware of our products. We would talk about our products, we showed people how to use it in every which way that we can think of creatively to talk about our products.

Here's the weird thing, and this is maybe a phenomenon that's exclusive to us, but in those early days, as I've shared these numbers before, in year one of creating a product, an educational product, a knowledge product if you will, and launching the YouTube channel, we did a whopping total of $18,000 in sales. Product sales. Then the next year I think we did like $45,000 in sales. That's two years, okay? So it's not a ton of money that we're talking about here. And I think it took us two years to get to 20,000 subscribers. You're like, "That is not remarkable."

And I have a reason. My observation is, when you're selling to people and you're talking about your products all the time, they start to feel like, "Oh, this is a commercial." I had this different theory, and this is one of the reasons why ultimately our partnership didn't work out, because we have different goals and different strategies. My goal was to build the most engaged community by transferring the maximum amount of value to them. I don't want to talk about products at all. I went the opposite direction. I just started to create content that I think is going to help people win, make more money, to find inspiration and fall in love again with what it is that they're passionate about. Then the channel started to grow quite fast.

Coincidentally I think, we started to sell a lot more product, because people became curious about what the heck is this channel all about? Who is this person? And of course we would put the link in the description, but we rarely talked about it. So much so that people became surprised that we actually had products for sale. But what happened is, we started doing much bigger numbers in terms of our product sales, to the point in which we started doing $500,000. What is it? $1.2 million and then $3.4 million.

I think it's something that some of you might want to think about. Now, this could be the one outlier in terms of an example, but I really believe this. We don't want to necessarily be marketed to. If you were to create the most amazing transformative videos, which I think you are trying to do, Tom, so I'm not criticizing you there, you will actually probably sell more product. But maybe I'm the lone voice in this crowd.

Tom:

I guess my worry with that is a disconnection where I've always been fearful of chasing vanity metrics, and that we could perhaps put out certain content that may get a lot of views, but if that's people who are just seeking a free tutorial or something like that, if it's not really bringing a tangible business benefit or there's not a obvious link back to the business, is it just views for views' sake? And I know that hasn't been your experience, Chris, but that's always been, I guess, a fear of mine.

Chris:

Benji?

Benji:

Tom, can you clarify your question one more time?

Tom:

Yeah, sure. My worry is that, if there is zero tie back to our core business in the content, even if we get a lot of views and subscribers, it's like you mentioned before, there are some channels, they get tons of views but actually make no money from it. And that would be a fear, if we were just chasing those vanity metrics, so to speak. Thanks.

Benji:

Okay, great question. How many videos, Tom, have you watched on YouTube where you didn't purchase anything from that person?

Tom:

Tons.

Benji:

A ton. But did you still watch your video? And did some of those videos inspire you to subscribe to their channel?

Tom:

For sure.

Benji:

That's totally okay. I've followed Chris for the last few years. I've never bought one of his products. It's not because they're not good products, they just aren't relevant for me. But I still get a lot of value out of his videos. Now, the reason I bring that up is, we're so worried about making the sale or making the money that we don't realize the power of influence. If your video has 10,000, 100,000, a million views, that's a lot of credibility. That's a lot of authority on that topic. As your volume grows in terms of the overall viewership, it only makes sense that your overall sales will grow. You know what? Sometimes there are videos you just put out that just purely to help the community. Purely to help somebody that needs an assistance on a Procreate.

By the way, my daughter started using Procreate, so I'm the perfect person to tell you what a young child is looking at. When I say young, she's nine years old. I think that as a creator... As a viewer, we're all selfish. As a creator, we have to be generous. The reason I'm telling you this, Tom, is because if you are not... Trust me. Some young buck, some other person that is really struggling, that wants a hustle, is willing to give for free. But if you give more than the other person, what is that going to build in the viewer between you and that person watching your video?

Tom:

Yeah, thank you Benji.

Benji:

It's going to build trust. It's going to build trust. Okay?

Tom:

Yeah.

Benji:

Sean and I, when we started Video Influencers, we were supposed to sell our book, but our book wasn't ready yet. We hadn't written it. It took us four years. But we didn't let that stop us from putting out content, because four years later when we did have half a million subscribers, we were able to sell 10,000 copies of our book literally on day one, because we had put in all that work. Having the long game in mind, I think, is important. But just realize, with volume, if you're actually helping people, there is going to be a percentage of people that do purchase your product. And I would argue, and Chris, you can confirm or tell me if this is wrong, I'm sure Chris doesn't sell a product to every single person that watches their videos. But as his channel has grown and as he's gotten more views, I'm sure the core sales or whatever he's providing in terms of a service or product, has gone up as well.

Chris:

Thank you very much, Benji. All right. There's a couple things I want to talk about and address. Tom, this surprises me a little bit, because you called it a vanity metric. We know that vanity is not a positive thing, so you've already now coded this whole idea of if it's not for business, then what is it for? But coming from the community guy, yourself described label there, you know the value of a community. You know what it means to gather people together around a common cause to share a worldview. And you also know this: that attention equals currency.

I'm going to tell you a little bit of a story here. Before Jose and I went into business together and worked on this company called The School, I wanted to have a clear exit scenario in case things didn't work out. It turns out, two and a half years later I'd have to go back to that clause to say, what is it that we get to keep? I wasn't really concerned about the product, the primary way in which we made money. I was concerned about the channel and the audience. I had this agreement with Jose that if things don't work out between us, I'm going to keep the channel and the community, and you're going to keep ownership of the product and the revenue, because the revenue didn't matter to me.

Now, I would get into debates with people later on with my team. And they're like, "Chris, why would you give away the product? This is where all the money comes from." And I would tell them that's a shortsighted play. I would tell them to imagine this scenario: let's just say two years in the channel grows to a 100,000 subscribers and one person gets to keep all the products and the revenue generated from it, and one person gets to keep the community. Well, let's just say we went 180 degrees apart from each other. How is somebody going to market their products now? They'd have to build a new audience and start to build the top funnel of awareness again from scratch, and it's going to be a lot of work to get there. It might take them as long as two years to get there. Whereas for me, if I held onto their channel, I can author a course or a product and use the audience that has consistently shown up for us and say, "Look guys, I have a new product." And over time you can see in a very short amount of time that the new products that are created with the channel and the community that you've built, your products are going to sell much better than the person who just walked away with the product itself. This is what I wanted to trade on.

I don't like this term vanity metric. Vanity metric applies to likes and, "Oh, you got a like, a thumbs-up or something." That's not what we're talking about here. Because when somebody elects to subscribe to your channel, they're saying, "Of all the things I can watch, I want to hear more from you." Now, it turns out with the algorithm changing that that might not mean as much as it used to, but it is also a metric that people talk about in terms of your influence, your credibility, your social proof. What happens is, if we think about ways to make money, we're thinking transactional. Like, "I'm going to make content and then people are going to buy a product that works." But then that's the end of the relationship. Where I'm thinking a transformational relationship and not a transactional relationship. I might not make money from Benji in core sales, but Benji might have me on his podcast, or he might invite me on his channel, which introduces me and then therefore my products to his audience. there's soft partnerships that are actually worth more than a few product sales.

I am a big believer in this quote from Zig Ziegler. "You could have everything you want in life if you help enough people get what they want in life." I'm not going to make that transactional sale, because with 2 million subscribers to our YouTube channel, I do not have 2 million customers. Not even close. But what they do is they give me their attention and then sponsors or event organizers will invite me to speak and they'll pay me tens of thousands of dollars, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, to do that. And then you ask yourself, "What is a successful product launch?" If you sell $100,000 and you are able to launch, you might be really happy. But if I do a sponsored deal that pays me $130,000 for "a few days worth of work", quote unquote, who's out ahead now? I think in this creator economy, we have to start thinking about the relationships that we've been able to build. Those are valuable. To think differently than just selling product.

Tom:

Yeah, it's partly what I needed to hear, so I would just say thank you. Yeah, I agree. Like you say, I know this stuff, I get this stuff, but sometimes you just have to hear it because you haven't been doing it in certain areas. Also, I know we're taking questions. I have a bunch of very, very interesting stats to share whenever you're ready for them.

Chris:

Share some stats with us. What did you learn? What did you see?

Tom:

Cool. I picked a bunch of our lower performing videos that have just a few hundred views, and I picked a bunch of our high performing videos that have several hundred thousand views and even to this day get thousands of views every month, even if they're quite old. I noticed something pretty interesting. I naturally presumed that we must be getting no impressions at all on the low performing views and that we must be getting a ton of impressions on the high performing videos. And actually the impressions were pretty much the same across the board.

What was different was the low performing videos had a click-through rate between 0.5 and 0.8%, and the high performing videos were more like 3 to 5%. Some of them were even between 7 to 17% on the really good ones.

Just for context, in terms of impressions, it's typically tens of thousands per month which are converting at those percentages. I think it was between typically 30 to 100,000 impressions.

Chris:

Yeah. I said this kind of flippantly, that you make content so good you don't have to worry about the algorithm. But now I'm going to contradict myself and talk about the algorithm, help you try to understand a little bit of that. The metric that we're talking about is the CTR, the click-through rate. And if I understand this correctly, for every 100 people that YouTube decides to try to show your content to, 0.5%, less than one person, is going to see this, so it's going to stop recommending this video. And the way that you have explosive growth in YouTube is you have to get it in front of people who are unaware of your channel and your content. Conversely, some of your higher performing videos, you have 3 to 5%, meaning three to five people out of 100 see it, so it's more likely that more people will see it.

When YouTube's machine learning starts to identify people who like this video also this other video, they're going to show that on the sidebar there and possibly recommend it to you just in your feed in general. Because it's eerie how, when you watch some kinds of videos, YouTube populates more videos like that. It just knows. Think about that.

And if you're getting 16 or 17%, which is crazy to me... I know Mr. Beast talks about this. If he's getting 30 or 40%, he's like, "Still, I need to get 60%, I need to get 70%." I want more people who browse through this to click through. And the way they click through is most likely the title and probably that thumbnail.

Benji:

What I can tell you, after doing this for 14 years, YouTube is a better platform today than ever before. Better than 2008 when I started, better than 2005 when it was launched, better than last year. I sat across a dining room table with a guy who runs the algorithm. We shared a bottle of red wine and he literally told me the secret of the algorithm, which there is really no secret. If a video is getting views, it's because the video thumbnail and title are better positioned and it's better delivering whatever the value that the viewer is expecting. This is what I love about YouTube. It's telling you where you're messing up through the backend analytics.

This is why you could have the greatest video, and I think eventually YouTube will put it out there, but if it doesn't have a great title that's relevant to what you're talking about and a thumbnail that tracks the attention of the person that's browsing through the search results, it's going to take a while for you to get that out there.

One thing I love about what you shared, Tom, is every video is getting a chance at that. It might not seem like it if you've only got one or two videos, but every time you put out a video, YouTube wants to promote new content creators. Now, if you've already got a subscribership that's a hundred thousands, maybe a million-plus people, yeah, you're already going to be better positioned. Not just because you've got subscribers, but also you've already proven to YouTube, "Hey, people want to watch my content." But even the person starting... There's YouTube channels that apply these principles to all three parts of that video, the thumbnail, the title, and the video itself, and from day one can get more video views than somebody that's been on it for 10 years. And why is that? It's because, honestly you guys, the only thing that matters to YouTube is, is this video going to do for the person that's searching or the person that's browsing what they are expecting better than the next video? All it is is a test and they're constantly doing what we as creators should already be doing. If you just applied the principles that are so simple to every one of your videos, you're going to have success.

But that's what I would say, Tom. And also, I know that's not very specific to you and those analytics, but I think it's a great point, that every video gets a chance. And if you're going to get a chance at bat, you got to come prepared. You got to realize you're competing against all the other people that want a chance at bat and that are getting a chance out bat. Including all the superstar creators that have been on the platform for a decade with millions of viewers, plus all the newbies that have zero subscribers, zero views, but may be doing it better than other people.

Tom:

Thank you Benji.

Chris:

Okay. Before I was talking about being transactional versus being transformative in terms of how you look at content. Now I'm going to say this. It's going to insult a few people in the room. But marketers tend to ruin everything. There's a platform that's for people to connect and then advertising gets in and marketers crowd it and then you can't use anything anymore. Email used to be effective and then marketers ruined it with spamming your inbox. Facebook for a period of time was very usable, and then they wanted to feed marketers ads and... Or I'm sorry, people to serve ads to and then Facebook was ruined too. And do we want to perpetuate this?

Seth Godin talks about this in his book, Permission Marketing, where he says the internet was the first modern communication platform that was not designed to sell ads. And then here we are trying to turn the internet and social media into another platform to advertise to people all over again. We're committing the sins of the past. And I think about this a lot. If people had a choice, and I think they do in the free market, to choose to buy one product over the other, and there were marginal differences in the product quality, more often than not they're going to choose the product or the company they believe in. They believe in their management, they believe in their mission, their cause, they believe in the company culture. One of the best ways to talk about that is to use social platforms to shed a light on who you are, what you believe in, and not to try to sell me more products. I'll get it. I understand it.

What's really cool was, and I'll try and land it on this point, I remember seeing a keynote from Elon Musk and he was launching, I think, the three series car. He was talking about it and he was talking about the launch and he paused, he corrected himself. He says, "Before I talk about this, I actually need to remind everybody why Tesla exists. Because we're facing the largest, biggest challenge to humanity right now with climate change, and I believe we need to move on this to prevent some of the disastrous impacts that are going to happen years down the line." He takes us back and he's talking about this, and talks about how Tesla's trying to build energy cells and capture... and how it's possible that we within our lifetime could drastically alter this thing. He wasn't talking about selling you his car, but what he did was... for my wife especially who saw this and said, "We need to just buy into this idea." The less he sold us on his car, the more we were sold. It's really weird. The more we wanted to buy.

I'm going to just send this message out there to marketers and companies. If you want to use Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, or YouTube to sell more things to more people, I think you're missing a point. We're going to end this with Benji. Benji, go ahead and drop your five minutes of gold.

Benji:

All right, this will be real quick, but this would benefit everyone. YouTube is a search engine. Even if you're just starting out or you're a seasoned creator that just needs to jumpstart your channel, do this every time you upload and you're going to progressively improve the performance of your channel.

Number one, whatever your idea is... And by the way, this works way more for businesses or people offering a product versus entertainment, but does still work for everyone. Whatever your video idea is, type into the search bar on YouTube what you want to rank for. Type it in and the first thing you're going to notice, a lot of things pop up down below. I type in things all the time thinking, "Hey, this is going to be the title," but I actually find better titles in those results that pop down.

Secondly, I press enter and I see what videos are ranking first. Look at the thumbnails. That's going to tell you the type of thumbnails for this content that viewers are clicking on, because YouTube is showing you the best performing videos in terms of thumbnails. Secondly, you watch all those videos. This does take time, but watch at least five of the top performing videos. What you're going to do is... Oh, I forgot. Also look at their titles. What are their titles saying? Because it might not even have anything to do with the search, but for whatever reason, those titles are bringing people in.

When you make your video, your goal is to make a better video than those four or five, if not top 10 videos. If you do this every single time, you will see improvement in your viewership, in your traffic.

The reason I know this works... And this is less than five minutes and we're going to wrap it up. I've never talked to Tom before. His number one performing video is how to create a wedding invitation design. I opened up a browser that I'm not signed into, I typed in, "How to create a wedding invitation design," and his video ranks on the first page. Number six. Secondly, I typed in what I think is one of the number one terms people typed in to find Chris's content, even if they don't know Chris, and it's how to charge for graphic design work. Not only is he on the first page, he's number four with 4 million views.

Search works. And a lot of people almost discount it because it just seems so cliché and so old and normal. But YouTube is a search engine. If you start with search and you see what is ranking and why it's ranking, make better thumbnails, make titles that are similar to theirs, and make sure your video is better than everybody else. I mean, I would bet money that eventually you're going to gain traction. That's my five-minute crash course of how to perform on YouTube.

Chris:

Excellent job. Excellent job, Benji. Thank you very much. Before we get out of here, I do want to respond to one thing that you just said there. I don't remember, but I used to do this all the time. I used to log out so that I'm an anonymous user, I would search for very broad terms like brand, strategy, pricing, and not only would we rank on the top 10 page, but we would rank multiple videos on the top 10. That's probably changed a little bit today, but for broad search terms like that, we would rank. And that's how you're going to be able to grow your channel. Sometimes, when we're chasing the latest and greatest trends, we miss the old thing, which is the foundational stuff. The stuff that's not sexy, that's fairly common sense but not enough people do. And if you follow what Benji did, I also would guarantee you that you're going to see an increase in performance and viewership.

And so, with that I want to thank you, Tom Ross, Benji. Until I see you next time. Have a great day everybody.

Greg Gunn:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode, and thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music.

If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me. Head over to thefutur.com/heychris and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time.

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