The Guide to YouTube Success in 2020 – Mike Stelzner

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The Guide to YouTube Success in 2020 – Mike Stelzner

Looking for data-driven advice on how you should be using video to engage your audience? Want fresh approaches to standing out on YouTube and getting more views? Want to discover the latest tactics that are working for video marketing?

Michael Stelzner shares the approach to video and YouTube that has been working for Social Media Examiner and will help your business build and audience and drive traffic as well.

He also explains why companies should be focusing on video and making sure it’s part of their digital marketing this year and beyond.

Rich: My next guest’s team sent over a short bio, but this is the third or fourth time he’s been on the show, so let’s forgo any formalities.

This is a man who befriended me in our first meeting, at which he picked up the check for like 20 of us, took me under his wing, mentored me, and provided me some of the best business advice I had ever received. He is incredibly insightful and will often ask me questions that I’m afraid to ask myself.

I ascribe a lot of the opportunities I’ve had over the years to his generosity, but I also know he doesn’t tolerate mediocracy, so I must have learned something from him. I love having him on the show because he makes all of his decisions based on data and insight, and I name drop him regularly in my presentation on How to Be a Thought Leader.  I’m always happy to have him back on the show, Michael Stelzner. Mike, welcome back to The Agents of Change.

Mike: Hey Rich, super awesome to have you. Wasn’t that 10 years ago when we first met?

Rich: It was something like that because I think that was Blog World in Vegas.

Mike: Yeah. Is that were Lewis Howes was there and Amy Porterfield was there?

Rich: I don’t remember. If Amy was there she was really quiet and mousy back then, which just goes to show you how long ago that was. But I remember you and Mari Smith were there, and I think you were kind of leading this group, and I kind of got in by Denise Wegman inviting me at the last minute.

Mike: That was over 10 years ago because we just turned 10.

Rich: Yes. Because you showed me this business card at the time which had Scout on it and were like, “Oh Rich, here’s my new business, Social Media Examiner”. And I thought to myself, oh great, what the world needs is another blog about social media. And the bottom line is I also thought email was ridiculous when I first heard about it. I think the thing is I just don’t see good things coming until its too late. 

Mike: It’s all good.

Rich: Anyway. One of the big announcements that I saw come out of your camp this year is that Social Media Examiner is going all in on YouTube. And I’m curious to know why that is, and what are you dropping to focus on YouTube?

Mike: Well that’s a great question.  It all started when I read an article in Fast Company or Wired Magazine about how Alexa was threatening Google search. And I did a little Google search for the phrase “social media” on my mobile phone and I was shocked to see literally pages and pages of stuff that Google delivered up before they showed me in slot #2. So technically I had to scroll like 6 screens down to see that I was ranked #2 or #3 in the phrase “social media”. 

What I realized is that Google sees Alexa/Amazon as a threat. And the days of organic search traffic are kind of maybe not going to be here in the future because Google wants to deliver the one correct answer, in the same way every other smart speaker wants to. And they want to do it in search.

I saw the writing on the wall, I wrote a blog post called, The Death of Organic Search, that kind of laid out all the data. And I said the future is going to be diversification. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, doesn’t Google own YouTube?” Yes, they own YouTube but I began to realize that it’s harder and harder now for written word to be discovered with the socials and with Google not necessarily driving traffic anymore.

So I thought to myself that the next best thing these days is long form video. And I began exploring YouTube and I just started to notice that people on YouTube stay on YouTube and spend outrageous amounts of time on YouTube. So I made a commitment for the next 2 years to invest heavily in the development of exclusive content on YouTube.

Rich: Alright, so I have a few questions about that. One is just a point of clarification. So when you’re talking about the fact that you had to scroll down 6 pages to see you were #2, did I understand that correctly and what exactly were you scrolling down?

Mike: If you type in “social media” right now on your phone, you’re going to see all sorts of stuff. You’re going to see stuff like the definition of the word social media, you’re going to see Google recommend all these other things, you’re just going to see a lot of stuff. And then eventually you’re going to get to the search results.

So what Google is doing is it’s trying to answer the question that you are trying to type in without having anyone click. There is a statistic that I came across recently that said 51% of all Google searches have no clicks.

Rich: Yeah, I saw that too and it shook me to my core.

Mike: That’s a problem for those of us that create content.  So that’s why I said it’s time to wake up and diversify. In my mind podcasting – we’ve got a good podcast, both of us, you and me – but video and in particular You Tube, I saw as a big opportunity that we were late to the game.

Rich: Ok, so I understand where you’re coming from. And because Google does put a lot of things like the knowledge boxes and the ‘people also ask’, and the local results, and the paid results, and everything else like that above a lot of their “organic results”. So the meritocracy that Google used to be is really no longer the case unless you start scrolling down the page.

Mike: Yeah, that first ranking doesn’t mean the same thing as it used to mean.

Rich: Exactly. You can be #1 and people aren’t even going to see you when they get to the search results page until they start scrolling.

Mike: Yeah. And I put some statistics together showing hundreds of thousands of people searching on the phrase “social media” every month. And I showed exactly from our Google search counts how many people were clicking on us in position #2 and it was literally in the hundreds, it was ridiculous.

Rich: It is crazy. So but why not – to play devil’s advocate – you’ve got this great podcast that I regularly listen to and recommend everybody listen to, why not just take that podcast and slap it up on YouTube and be done?

Mike: Wonderful question. There used to be a day where we believed that every piece of content should be published everywhere, but I don’t believe that’s the day that we live in anymore. There was a day where we would take a video and we would publish it on Facebook, and YouTube, and Pinterest, and Twitter, and LinkedIn. Which is essentially the same thing as what you’re saying, take your content and repurpose it.

The problem is that the behavior on one platform is not the same as it is on another. I’ve been studying YouTube for 4 years and going to all the big conferences and YouTube people and really just digging in for a long time. And I began to realize that video on YouTube is very different than it is anywhere else. And there’s a strategy as far as how it works, what it needs to do, and everything about it is very unique.

I’m a personal believer that you need to customize your content for every single social platform. I’m personally not a believer in taking video that was designed for YouTube and repurposing it anywhere else. So we can talk about both of those if you want to, but I’ll just tell you why I believe you ought to have a place where you call home when it comes to video.

I believe that you program your audience to watch the video wherever you happen to publish it. And we are actively trying to program our audience – which is very big – that YouTube is the place where you go to see our video content, and it’s the only place where you go to see our video content. And we’ve seen really good results since we’ve been doing this.

Rich: For Social Media Examiner, what’s the objective of YouTube? I mean for a small business like me, I might be looking to get more clients and use education to attract clients to flyte new media, or I might be using it to get people to attend The Agents of Change conference. But what’s the goal for Social Media Examiner?

Mike: I think you have to think about YouTube in the same way you think about a blog, and the same way you think about a podcast. The goal is to get subscribers. And the goal is to get those subscribers to come back and watch your content or to come back and listen to your content, in the case of a podcast.

So what we are trying to do is we are trying to create content specifically for the platform knowing that there’s a billion + people that watch videos everyday on the platform. And what we’re trying to do is develop a very loyal tribe, in the same way that people come back to our website and read our articles every day.

In addition we also know that there are different kinds of learners out there. There are people that learn by reading, there are people that learn by listening, and there are people that learn by watching. And we’ve realized that we’ve forgone the people that learn by watching. So the goal in the YouTube channel is to develop a very large subscriber base over the next 2 years – almost 200,000 subscribers – and to get an average watch of 25,000 people per video. That is the only goal. There is no financial or monetization goal. Rich, you’ve known me for a very long time, when I started Social Media Examiner my only goal was to grow an email list. Do you remember that?

Rich: Absolutely.

Mike: I didn’t advertise anything at all. So the goal is to become so indispensable to a group of people that they will talk about us, share us, become reliant on us, and the content that we’re creating there is video tutorials almost exclusively. So every one of these videos are like little, sexy, cool, tactical video articles. We fly experts like Mari Smith, Jenn Herman, or Amanda Bond, or Bella Vasta into San Diego and we put them in the studio and we literally record really tactical videos and then we edit them. We have a really cool crew in Austria that makes these videos look spectacular. We create really cool thumbnails that are designed to get people to click, and we’re just trying to grow the channel. And that’s it. Literally, that’s it.

Rich: For now, at least.

Mike: Yes. The longer term strategy is in the background of every single video we have a little sign that says, Social Media Marketing World, on top of a desk. That’s it.  Or if I’m doing videos at conferences, I’m wearing a t-shirt that has the logo of Social Media Marketing World, a little subliminal advertising.

Now we do have the option to remarket to people that watch our channel through Google. So we could go to those that are regular watchers of any particular video or all the videos, and give them an advertisement specifically for our product.

Rich: Absolutely. And that whole thing makes a lot of sense. And you actually answered like three of the questions that I had written down that I want to talk to you about. I’ll just ask for a little bit more information on some of these.

You mentioned that almost all of your videos are short, how-to videos. You used to do The Journey. You used to do different types of videos, you had a talk show going on, unless you shuttered that. Are you saying that almost every video you’re creating now are these short, expert driven, how-to?

Mike: They’re not short. They’re typically 5-12 minutes in length. So when you say “short” I think like a minute or two.

Rich: I hear you. I think we’re on the same page. It’s not like you’re doing a half hour talk show, and it’s not like The Journey episodes or anything like that.

Mike: Yeah, we should talk about that a little bit. So we have a live show, we still have a live show. We used to simulcast the live show on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. And we decided that what we were going to do was turn it into a live taping of a podcast.  So now what we do with the live show is we have it exclusively on Crowdcast, which is a platform that makes it real easy for crowd interaction, and then we take the audio from that live show and put it in a podcast.

We found that we have a lot more people listening to the podcast. So we have about 5,000 people every week that listen to the podcast, and then we have about 100 that show up live. And the reason we took it off the YouTube channel was we began to realize it wasn’t going to help our new strategy on the YouTube channel. Because what we wanted was when people came to the channel we wanted them to see a litany of content that was just super tactical, and we knew that a lot of people would not listen to a 45 minute talking head video on our channel, so instead that’s exclusively done with the podcast.

In the case of The Journey – which is our documentary – I hired a Director of Marketing, I was the central corporate character, so you could say I retired from that show and as a result the show doesn’t exist anymore because the central character is no longer doing the show. And by the way, that was fun and exciting, but nothing comparted to the results of we’re getting with the kinds of videos we’re doing now.

Rich: Alright, and that is interesting because I do subscribe to a number of YouTube channels and it goes through phases for me. I’m a super comic book nerd – as I think you know, Mike – and a lot of the subscriptions I have are for comic book related shows. And one of the things I’ve noticed is that they have – these are the ones that are cranking out content three times a week – and they have different types of shows. They have the origin shows, then they do breakdowns of recent comics, and they also do videos of the podcast they do. So it’s interesting that you’re saying I’m just going to do primarily one type of show and do it really well.

Mike: Yeah, it’s exactly what we’re doing. For example we had Rick Mulready in the studio and he did a Facebook Ads Manager tutorial, and Mari Smith how to increase your organic reach, and then we had Jenn Herman talking about Instagram Stories hashtag strategy. It’s just the same content we would have published on our blog or on our podcast, except it’s direct to camera.

What makes it special is we have an overseas crew in Austria that adds animation to it and cuts it so that it’s more entertaining to watch.

Rich: Yeah. In fact I watched the one recently with Jenn Herman talking about IGTV hashtags, and it almost felt like it was one of those explainer videos that you watch that explains, there was a lot of overlays, a lot of fast cuts, and very easy to understand.  But there’s huge production value, I felt, behind it. I was actually going to ask if you have an entire team working behind the scenes on post, but it sounds like you do in Austria.

Mike: We have two editors in Austria, and then we have a full time employee in-house as well, and then we have our editorial team that particular person reports to. And then we also have a graphic designer that works sometimes on the thumbnails. So it’s a big investment, but we’re playing the long game. So in the short run it’s really all about driving our audience, And by the way, we’re linking from Facebook to YouTube, which used to be a no-no, and it’s actually not a no-no anymore. It’s totally ok.

Rich: Interesting.

Mike: So we’re driving a lot of traffic to our social platforms over to YouTube, and from our email which is one of our main ways of doing it. And the hope is that we can catch the YouTube search and the YouTube recommended videos, and that’s kind of the game we’re playing right now.

Rich: Alright, so that was actually my next question. So we talked about a couple ways that you’re driving traffic here; email, social, specifically Facebook. But I want to know what you’re doing to optimize your videos to be found on YouTube. Is it about tags, is it about trying to show up in suggested videos, what are you currently doing that you’re allowed to talk to me about?

Mike: I can talk to you about everything. Here’s the good news, YouTube shows you really interesting statistics in a funnel. They show you exactly how many people they have revealed your video to. So they show you the impressions, and then they show you the clicks, and then they show you the plays, kind of in a funnel. So they kind of let you know this video is getting a 3.7% click through rate, this one’s getting a 5.9% click through rate.

They also show you a whole bunch of different statistics like where your traffic is coming from. This is coming from a playlist that you have this is coming from search and here’s the search phrase, or this is coming from recommended videos.

So what we’ve been doing is we’ve been watching the videos that after the first week just keep spiking up to the right, and we’re looking for the YouTube suggested stuff and if it’s starting to work. And then what we do is we look at the other videos we’re competing with on that search phrase, like Instagram hashtags you can pull up right now and see that we’re #2.

Then what we do is we now start thinking how can we create a better thumbnail, because the thumbnail in YouTube search is the thing everybody sees first, and then they see the headline. And the idea here is we’re beginning to learn that if you can get creative with the thumbnail so that it’s not exactly the same as everybody but it compliments it, then you can get a lot more clicks. Because it is a bit of a game of creating, just like a Facebook ad, creating a graphic and a headline that will get someone to click. And if they click and they watch, then YouTube rewards you with more recommendations. It’s kind of this first and foremost you’ve got to get people to watch, almost all the way to the end of the video. We tend to have a 40-50% retention to the end of the video, which is really good.

So when those videos are strong all the way to the end, and they’re getting recommended in search which is all YouTube cares about, that’s when we can start to go back and alter the thumbnails, because YouTube does not carte how many times you change that thumbnail.

Rich: So it sounds like what you’re looking for is between the title and the thumbnail, you basically are creating click bait, but you want to deliver on that click bait. Otherwise, you’re not going to get rewarded for any next behavior.

Mike: Yeah. A quick verbal example is the video that dropped today. So the graphic shows the video pointing to some words that say, “5 steps to more”, and then it shows 3 money bags. And then underneath it says, “how to create sales videos that convert”. So the idea is that 5 steps to more money doesn’t make a lot of sense without the headline, and those two things are playing together. So that’s the current thing we’re playing with right now.

If someone types in “how to create sales videos”, hopefully they’ll see this “5 steps to more money” and that will incentivize them to click on our thumbnail instead of someone else’s.

Rich: That’s the sizzle. So talk to me about your description strategy. Are you focused on keywords? As I was looking through it I saw a lot of links in your recent videos, both in your content as well as your guest’s content, plus so many emojis it looked like an Instagram bio. I know none of this is by accident, so tell me your thinking behind that.

Mike: Here’s the deal. You probably know this already that Google just released this thing called, “BERT”. Are you familiar with this at all?

Rich: You know what’s funny, there’s an email from one of my favorite email creators all about that, but I haven’t cracked it. So tell me about it.

Mike: So what it is, is this new national image process system that Google is releasing. Which means it knows what you mean, whether you say it right or wrong. So it’s getting to the point now where for example “best restaurants in Maine” versus “what restaurants are ideal in Maine”, it knows it means the exact same thing. Where in the olden days you would have had to write a blog post for each one. So this artificial intelligence is getting so sophisticated that it can get to intent faster.

So we’re getting away from that age of keywords. Google has announced that literally a few days ago. So the day of using keywords are dead. So instead, I just write these descriptions in a way that makes sense to a human. Because I know that what YouTube cares about the most is human session time. So if I can write the description in such a way that someone will read it and be incentivized to watch it, that’s what matters the most.

So I’ll say, for example, my latest video says, “Wondering how to create sales videos that turn more viewers into customers? Looking for a proven process to follow? Owen Video explains his 5-step system for producing video that can convert, and shares a 2-step method for getting video testimonials from customers.”  So that’s it. That’s really just kind of what they’ll get if they watch the video. And the emoji’s my team puts in there just because the idea is that eventually people will become familiar.

But here’s the honest truth, most people don’t even look at the description now. They just look at the thumbnail and they look at the title, and that’s it.  That’s all they care about, the rest of that stuff is there for the persona that wants to learn more, and that’s it.

Rich: I think it’s funny that marketers are the ones most likely to click on “see more”, but not anybody else. Not any mere humans.

Mike: Or if you’re like ok, maybe there’s something in the session description or whatever. We use hashtags though, that’s important. What’s cool about YouTube is the hashtags are above the title now in the description of the video, which is kind of a new thing, and that’s kind of exciting.

Rich: Well I just think that it’s funny. I don’t know that I ever saw emoji’s in the description until recently. And if anybody knows YouTube you know you don’t really get to put any sort of HTML in there outside of the exact link. So emoji’s are really probably the best way to make your descriptions look interesting, if not any more searchable, so that’s kind of interesting.

Mike: Emoji’s are hot for everything, even for email.

Rich: Absolutely. And I’ve been using emoji’s and emoticons forever because they’re the hieroglyphics of modern day.

Mike: There you go.

Rich: So you talked a lot about subscribers already, but I do want to know, how are you encouraging people to subscribe to your channel? Do you have verbal calls to action, do you have things in the description? What are you doing to really incentivize that subscription?

Mike: Almost nothing. Now this is crazy, but in the olden days we used to say, “Please subscribe and hit the bell”, now we don’t do any of that because the YouTube consumer is sophisticated now. It’s a big mature channel, they know to hit the ‘subscribe’ button.

So what we do at the very end of the video is we just have a call to action where the word says ‘subscribe’ and it shows our logo. And most people know if they click on that little scout avatar that they can subscribe.

And then we’ll also show a video on the other side to keep them in session. Because what YouTube wants is longer session duration. So I don’t actually ever say anything. Actually what we do – and I think you’ll find really fascinating, Rich – is we literally keep them hanging until the last 10 seconds, so that it abruptly ends. Because this is what YouTuber tells us is the most important thing, to get them as far along as possible so they’ll just go right into the next video.

Rich: So the previous phase of YouTube, the model was let’s add 15 seconds at the end of each video where we show three or four other videos people can click to. And what you’re saying is, no, it’s like the end of Soprano’s season 5 and just cut to black and be done.

Mike: The credits are in a little box and you’re still watching it. Yeah, exactly. Literally end it and over the top of the screen are the references to the next thing if they want to do it. But that just keeps them…they still have the 15 seconds at the end and where you can have the end screen. But the current strategy is to never say, “That’s the end of the video, thank you.” Instead it’s to say, “If you want to learn more, click on the video right here on the screen”, pointing at it and literally a video pops up there on the screen.

Rich: Alright. Now you focused on a specific type of video that’s working for you, and you talked about The Journey which went away. Did you discover this because you had some failures that were starting to develop?  Well, maybe not failures.

Mike: Well maybe not failure, but here’s the thing, I just had some things that I felt like tutorial videos were going to be hot because I’d seen so many other people doing it. Like if there’s something I want to learn and I don’t know how to do it, I’m going to go to YouTube and search for it. Especially if it’s something to do with my house, I know there’s going to be a video out there about it. Well why isn’t there videos out there about how to do Facebook ads, and if there was, most of them were done by really small creators that nobody has ever heard of before.

So I’m looking at view counts of some of these videos and I’m like, well we have a chance to compete with these guys, because we already have a big audience and we can drive to them. And the other thing that we do, by the way, is we take a camera crew with me when we go to events. I just most recently got back from Derrall Eves’ VidSummit and I did 8 interviews while I was up there. And those videos are a talking head, except they also have the animation going on over the top. So it will be me interviewing that person and it will have really cool animation over the top so that it will be easy to watch. Those videos do not do as well as these actual intentional ’how to” tutorial kind of videos. Those are the ones that everybody wants to watch and we’re talking about a difference of 1.000-2,000 views versus 5,000-6,000 views. It’s pretty dramatic.

Rich: And that I guess is important to watch, I guess in terms of trying to build up that repeat viewership and everything like that. Tell me a little bit about if you have a strategy around this, because I know for a long time when YouTube was really promoting this – and going back to my comic book descriptions that I have on YouTube – a lot of them will categorize things like ‘DC’, ‘Marvel’, ‘Independent’. Are you using playlists as part of your current YouTube strategy?

Mike: Absolutely. So what we’re doing is, when we have a bunch of Facebook ads videos, we put them into a Facebooks ads playlist. Sometimes we actually have whoever is in studio say, “If you want to learn more, check out our Facebook ads playlist right here on the screen”. Because you can embed a playlist just like you can embed a video. So the playlist thing is really valuable, because once someone gets into a playlist and it’s organized in the right way, they’ll just stick through the whole playlist.

So yeah, we’re absolutely taking all our stuff and putting them into playlists. You’ll see those on our homepage on youtube.com/socialmediaexaminer, you’ll see playlists for Instagram, YouTube, and I think will create more as more content comes up.

Rich: That sounds awesome. So this is a nice segue for me to talk about your upcoming conference, Social Media Marketing World, that’s going to happen on March 1-3, 2020. Links on our show note, but I’m just curious, are you going to be talking about some of this stuff that you’re doing on YouTube at Social Media Marketing World? And, are you doubling down on the number of speakers about YouTube, are you changing the type of presenters you’re having on YouTube? I know whenever you get into something you really get into it.

Mike: I haven’t decided what I’m going to talk about on my keynote yet. But I can tell you we have 4 tracks on video, 1 on YouTube for business, 1 on video marketing, 1 on video creation, and 1 on live video. So we’ve got like 20+ sessions that you can go to just on video. And that’s the cheap ticket, that’s the ticket that’s currently only $397.

But yeah, I mean I think that if you started to think about Instagram and you started to think about Stories and you start thinking about Tik Tok, and you start thinking about Facebook video ads. I mean video is really the future and it’s the hardest, most scariest to kind of wrap their brain around. But it really is a big part of where marketers could use some professional development for sure.

Rich: Mike, one of the things that I like telling people when I’m speaking is, “best practices don’t always equal best results.” Like you can get an expert up on stage each telling you how they did it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will translate well for your business and that you should always look at your results, your analytics, your metrics. What kind of metrics are you using to know that what’s working is working when it comes to YouTube?

Mike: We’re looking at video retention time, that’s the first metric. We really want to see a really nice solid flat line from the beginning to the end of the video.  And then the second thing is subscriber growth. You want to see that subscriber growth increase every single month.  And the correlation that we’re starting to see – because we’re only a month and a half into this as of this recording – but the correlation we’re seeing is we’re seeing a direct correlation between subscriber growth and video views on these videos. And that’s no different than saying I want email subscribers or I want podcast subscribers.

So those are the two metrics. Subscribers without video views, vanity. Subscribers with video views, very important. Because we know the most valuable thing right now is your time. And if you’re going to spend 5-10minutes with us multiple times a week, that’s super valuable for us. So that’s what we’re tracking right now.

Rich: That’s fantastic. Mike, as always, blown away but what you’re doing. I need to rethink my entire plans for 2020. This has been great. By the way, remind me, what is the URL for your YouTube channel for Social Media Examiner?

Mike: YouTube.com/socialmediaexaminer.

Rich: Alright, and we’ll have of course those links in the show notes. Mike, anywhere else you want people to go check you out right now?

Mike: Well if you love podcasts, come check out the Social Media Marketing Podcast, we interview awesome guests every single week.

Rich: They absolutely do. You should definitely check that out, big focus on social media, one of my regular go to place. Also for finding guests for this show, so you can hear them first on the Social Media Marketing Podcast.

Mike thanks so much for swinging by and I’ll see you this coming March in San Diego.

Mike: Thank you, Rich. 

Show Notes:

Mike Stelzner has a knack for knowing when the marketing industry is about to see a big change, and always manages to be a step ahead. To experience his insight and knowledge, check out his popular podcast. To see how he’s changing the marketing game with video, check out his YouTube page. And if you really want to immerse yourself amongst some of the top minds in the marketing industry, make sure you attend his conference in March 2020.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing