How to Build an Audience on YouTube

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Q. I’ve done a few Web series, but they didn’t get very many views. How do I build an audience?

A. I hear this a lot. You spent months slaving away on a series, you upload to the Web, and...crickets.

Unfortunately, gone is the phrase “going viral.” Our Facebook and Twitter feeds have become a marketplace of self-promotion, and when just about everyone seems to be making a Web series, it’s tough to even get people to watch.

While variables such as format, tone, and personality are always going to be a huge part of the equation, here are five YouTube basics you can control to help you build an audience.

Optimize SEO. Make sure people can find your content. To increase search engine optimization, make sure your description box has plenty of information about the series, links, and cast and crew listings. Include video keywords, possible title misspellings, and other brand associations as tags in the description box. The more information you have under the video, the better your video’s search engine ranking by Google.

Increase video interaction. If your video is particularly controversial or newsworthy, comments and likes often come automatically. Otherwise, creatively encouraging people to comment and “like” the video (through graphics or calls to action) can help increase your content’s search visibility. Depending on their settings, social activity on your content is often automatically broadcast to those viewers’ own social media streams (i.e., Twitter). Voilà, free promotion!

Design your video thumbnail. Time and again, Google studies show that people are much more likely to watch a video with a great thumbnail. If you’re not a Photoshop wizard, take a screen grab of your video’s best frame (command+shift+3 on a Mac), and use to crop it to 1920x1080 pixels. Apply color filters (increasing saturation and contrast goes a long way), and export the file as a JPEG or PNG.

Consistency. If you’re serious about building an audience, release content at least once a week. Try to keep your series scalable so that you have the resources to continue releasing on an ongoing basis. If you need time off, maintain consistency by releasing behind-the-scenes content, extras, or vlogs.

Annotations. Annotations are the clickable areas of a YouTube video that drive viewers to other content on your channel. I frequently use the “spotlight annotation” tool to point people to other videos or to my channel subscription box. Go to and watch the last 30 seconds of one of my recent videos to see how I use annotations.

There are a ton of other ways to build an audience around your content. These YouTube basics will help get you started.

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