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What I’ve Learned From Starting a YouTube Channel in 2020

Logan Baker

I started a YouTube channel on January 1st. Here’s what analytics have shown me in the past few weeks.

Before we really dive in, here’s the short version of this article: Everybody is watching YouTube right now. Start your channel. Post your stuff.

I’m writing this article for one reason — I want to inspire you to start your channel. Right now. Bring those ideas to life and share them. Put out that content you’ve been sitting on. People are watching. Post it. Today. And if I can’t inspire you to finally start your channel, then the numbers below might. Either way, let’s jump in.

Starting My Spare-Time YouTube Channel

Logan Baker's YouTube Channel

The two videos that started it all. Image via the author.

I began the year with a move from Texas to New York City. On New Years Day, I launched my personal YouTube channel. My channel is about film photography. It has little if anything to do with filmmaking, and it serves as a nice, refreshing little side project away from my full-time video and editing gigs.

The plan was to publish videos when I had spare time. Maybe one upload per month just to get everything rolling. Ultimately, the goal was to just have some fun. In January and February, I put out a total of two videos, and I shot a third before the country went into lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Understanding perfectly well that my Instagram following isn’t really all that big, I didn’t expect much traffic on my channel, and, relatively speaking, there’s still not much. Nonetheless, over the past few weeks, I’ve seen an uptick in subscribers and more views on the two videos I’ve posted. In fact, just this past week, I picked up almost 100 subscribers. What gives? Let’s take a look at some analytics.

A Sudden Spike in Subscribers

Your subscriber count spiked. It's time to figure out what you're doing right.

Track your views to understand how and when people are interacting with your channel. Image via the author.

To put it simply, I’ve got no name recognition, and I’ve only uploaded two videos. I’m but a drop in the YouTube bucket, and yet traffic is up (like, everywhere). Maybe my channel’s analytics can help me make some sense of the situation.

As you can see in the image above, there’s was a big uptick in traffic in the past week. Overall, I’d say both videos are getting (roughly) the same number of views. Let’s break this down further and focus on the first video I uploaded: “Shooting Cinestill 50D, BwXX & 800T in Manhattan.”

My decision to start the channel off with a video about Cinestill was partly based on the fact that I’d already made a Cinestill video that did pretty well on the Shutterstock Tutorials channel. (It’s currently up to around 75,000 views.)

Of course, the Shutterstock channel was already established to the tune of almost 100,000 subscribers at that point. I wanted to see how the topic would do on channel that didn’t have that kind — or, really, any kind — of following. Turns out it did okay. And, thanks to a few best practices, it wasn’t an accident.

Building Traffic Though YouTube Best Practices

Willem Verbeek is easily the most popular YouTuber in the “film photography” space. Thanks to consistent uploads and high-quality content, his channel has skyrocketed over the past two years, and each video he uploads gets around 50-75,000 views. (Oh, and the keywords in Verbeek’s video are currently bringing viewers over to my channel. We’ll look at the hows and whys of that shortly.)

In the pre-pandemic world, there were a few different established guidelines you could follow to help a new YouTube channel successfully grow an audience — consistent uploads, popular keywords, name recognition, shout-outs from other channels, etc.

Each of these best practices has its own challenges and advantages to explore, but right now I’m going to focus specifically on two of them: consistent uploads and popular keywords. Regarding the former, well, I’ve uploaded two videos. That’s pretty much the opposite of a consistent upload strategy.

But the latter — popular keywords — that’s something I made sure to keep in mind with the two videos I’ve posted so far. Those keywords have helped my videos turn into recommended content for all kinds of bored-at-home people.

Where’s the Traffic Coming From?

Understanding where your traffic is coming from can help you get more of it.

Audiences are easier to build when you use analytics to find potential viewers. Image via the author.

As you can see above, 55.2% of my 18.1K impressions are coming from YouTube’s recommendations to site users. This is exactly what I was hoping for when I uploaded the videos.

It turns out YouTube is a surprisingly good partner. If your content creates even just a little engagement, YouTube will keep placing that content in new and interesting spots across the site.

Speaking of engagement, I make sure to respond to every comment that comes in. For one thing, YouTube reads this in a positive way. But most importantly, it’s a simple, fun way to establish a great relationship with your audience and build your own little community on your channel. At its core, YouTube is a social app that allows creators to communicate with each other as they share their work.

Now let’s take a look at the videos YouTube chose to attach to mine in the “Suggested” column.

How are YouTube's suggestions affecting the growth of my channel?

Keywords work. Use them. Image via the author.

Unsurprisingly, all the videos my videos have been placed with are related to Cinestill in some shape or form.

What’s important to note is that all of these other Cinestill videos were published in the last six months. Additionally, they originate from all types of channels — one has 488 subscribers. Another has almost 200,000 subscribers. YouTube is basing its suggestions off of keywords instead of other factors like audience size. Obviously, it might help more to get matched up with a channel that has more eyes on it, but every little bit helps, right?

One takeaway/tip here is to follow in the content footsteps of the channels you subscribe to. You don’t have to replicate what they’re doing, but consider taking a generalized approach to the topics they touch on, and try to hit the same keywords and subjects (while bringing your own sensibilities to your work, of course).

Building Traffic From Instagram

Another thing worth noting — I posted the video to my Instagram the moment it was published, and put the link in my Instagram bio as well. As you can see in the stats below, Instagram makes up 45% of my “External Sources” traffic. Of course, external views only account for 9% of my total views, so 92% of my traffic is still coming from inside YouTube.

The Instagram traffic was the major pull at first, until YouTube recommended it based on my title, description, and tags. Let’s take a look at the keyword stats, where I noticed a few things.

Diving into the traffic stats.

Give your video a better shot at success by linking to it from your social accounts. Image via the author.

The top search term — “cinestill 50d” — is the clear draw to the video. Remember Willem Verbeek’s clip up top? It’s all about the Cinestill 50D, and term is in his video’s title. Here we see the beauty of keeping topics relevant. When the big names make something related to your content, you get lumped into their ecosystem.

Now, film photography is going through a popularity resurgence, and I’m certainly part of the group that’s flocked to it in recent years. And, obviously certain subjects/topics/pieces of gear are far more popular than others. Make no mistake — I was definitely aware of these facts while making the video.

So if anything, let this be a lesson in best practices for YouTube content creation and uploading. If you’re starting from scratch, popular search terms will always give your video a boost in ways Instagram hashtags and Facebook tags won’t. YouTube will actively plug your video if its getting good engagement, runs a good length, and has an overall professional quality.

Will the Surge Last?

Will the surge last? My channel traffic at a glance.

My channel traffic at a glance. Image via the author.

I guess there are a few ways I can look at this. Either my channels’s traffic is up right now due to the uptick in YouTube usage by people stuck at home, or there’s a surge in popularity of the keywords I used, or the channel is just slowly growing due to YouTube’s algorithm recognizing an increase in engagement as time passes. Realistically, it’s probably a combination of all three of these things.

But, seriously. Real talk. I sincerely believe it’s the perfect time to start your channel. And the best way to do that is, well, just start it already. At least, that was my approach. I’m definitely happy I finally went for it, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the year looks like for my channel. Where will the traffic come from? Will it continue to grow? Hard to say. But it will be interesting to keep figuring out ways to use some of these best practices to my advantage. We’ll see what happens as I roll out some new videos in the weeks ahead. If film photography is your thing, consider subscribing!

Oh, and if want to see my channel’s other current video — “Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400 – The Most Underrated and Affordable Film Stock” — here you go.

If you’re just starting out in filmmaking or videography, these free resources, assets, tips, and tricks will put you on the fast-track to your first video.