YouTube recently released an updated version of its Creator Playbook (.pdf available for download) with a pronounced emphasis on building a comprehensive content strategy that includes video marketing. The latest “Playbook” offers dozens of valuable insights on planning, executing, and measuring performance for newbies and seasoned professionals alike. With nearly 100 pages of sound advice, here are some memorable caveats with page citations in parentheses.

Think Beyond Video

“Your YouTube content should be part of a broader branded content plan that’s not limited to video or even to digital” (8).

Video works in conjunction with other forms of content marketing to generate value for your core buyer personas. Understand the medium’s strengths and weaknesses so that video serves as a complement – rather than a crutch – to other pieces in your marketing plan.

Determine a Content Territory

YouTube defines a brand’s “content territory” as the “intersection of your audience’s passion points and your brand value proposition” (8).

“Branded Content Territory” : YouTube Creator Playbook Page 9

How will your articulate your value proposition through video? How will you improve their lives better than your competitors’ offers? Mapping out content territories reveals areas of differentiation where your brand can take leadership.

Three Paths to Video Value Creation

“Online content helps people express emotion and connect with each other around shared passions” (3).

The authors have identified three primary methods of creating value for your viewers:

  • Inspiring viewers with emotional narratives that spark genuine relatability
  • Educating viewers with helpful information
  • Entertaining viewers with outstanding, sensational content

Many high-performing videos do all three things simultaneously. Truly wonderful content is multifaceted and revealing; audiences can gain something new when revisiting your work from a different perspective.

Understand Viewer Intent 

“People often share content because they feel the content conveys something about their own beliefs” (17) […] You need to capture their intent – that is, understand what they’re searching for when they come to YouTube. Use search insights to find the most frequent searches (aka “queries”). Which queries can your brand credibly answer?” (34).

What problems are you solving with your videos? What makes them entertaining or inspiring? Why would someone share this with their friends? Answering these elemental questions puts you in the mindset of your core buyer personas, the people who directly benefit from your value proposition. Exploring this dilemma impacts your entire video marketing strategy all the way from pre-production to launch to metric analysis.

Context is Crucial

“You’ll know you’ve done your job when every episode of your show can be fully appreciated by a first-time viewer. In other words, your videos shouldn’t lock out new viewers who stumble upon them […] Always consider the new viewer when writing and producing content. Would a new viewer immediately grasp what the video’s about?” (22).

Many creators operate under the assumption that their viewers are always in the know. However, brands must be prepared for all types of visitors, some of which have no prior contact or connection with anything you have previously published.

Create fundamental content that onboards new viewers to who you are, what you do, and why you can be valuable to them. Provide quick recaps to previous happenings in your series to refresh returning viewers and inform new guests. Be clear with what audiences can expect to see from you without giving away every detail.

Context applies not only to the actual video but the distribution process as well. The playbook notes that a “significant percentage of your audience will discover your video from a social feed, a search result or a related video placement” (22). These watchers may not have a disclaimer or the full background of what they’re seeing. It’s up to you to craft the video in such a way that the events unfold sensibly and information can be readily absorbed.

Optimization Never Ends

Optimizing the metadata for your videos is not a “one and done” process. The playbook recommends frequently revisiting your YouTube SEO tactics to capitalize on changing trends and viewer preferences as your channel matures. Page 43 offers several video title optimization tips including:

This wisdom applies to your tags, description, and overall channel information as well.

Maximize Watch Time

“Videos with lower watch times appear lower in search results” (44).

Similarly, YouTube has placed high priority on watch time in determining search rankings for videos. ZEFR’s Meredith Levine notes, “YouTube wants to not just promote popular content, but genuinely good content. Watch-time is a pretty good sign that content is capturing the attention of viewers. It is a major part of engagement as well.”

It makes sense; content that is genuinely appreciated is likely watched in its entirety. Viewers might even replay the material several times because it’s that great. YouTube recommends creating “Playlists” which “increase watch time and creates another asset that will appear in search results and in Suggested Videos. You can create playlists using your own videos, other videos, or a combination of both” (56).

While the first few seconds of your video are extremely important, you need to deliver meaningful content and a sustained, substantial viewing experience to dominate YouTube search rankings.

Save Time With Metadata Defaults

Optimizing videos individually may be tedious and time consuming. YouTube now allows you to label certain pre-determined markers on your videos when uploading new items. Go to Channel Settings > Defaults and you’ll see:

I recommend this tactic if you plan on publishing several videos as part of an ongoing series. You can make adjustments to each individual video’s title and description while keeping a general template.

Choose Thumbnails Wisely

Remember, viewers will be watching your videos in different contexts. In other words, people will encounter your videos on smart phones, tablets, desktops, and laptops. Therefore, it’s important to have a vibrant, high quality thumbnail that appeals to viewers on tiny devices and gigantic screens. Outlined on page 49, your thumbnails should be:

  • High resolution (640px by 360px minimum, 16:9 aspect ratio)
  • Bright, high-contrast (the foreground is clearly differentiated from the background)
  • Visually compelling
  • Well-framed with good composition
  • An accurate representation of the video’s content

Depending on the subject matter, the playbook also recommends using a human face to grab attention and establish connection/relatability.

The Best Annotations Are “Conversational and Interactive”

Annotations are a tricky feature to master. Depending on who you ask, some viewers are fine with them and some absolutely hate them. Viewers do have the option of turning off annotations to videos by un-checking the box on the YouTube Settings > Playback screen.

However, annotation represent a powerful opportunity for brands to extend viewer interactivity. Again, this feature holds the delicate challenge of compelling viewers to take action in the least distracting way possible. Recommendations on page 52:

  • Avoid annotations along the very top of the frame. This is where your title will show if embedded.
  • Don’t obstruct the actual content.
  • Don’t bombard the viewer. This can feel “spammy.”
  • When appropriate, set annotations to open a new window when clicked. Be careful! Don’t take viewers away from a video too soon.
  • Annotations at the end of a video should open in the same window.

Turning on “Related Channels” allows your channel to be promoted on other channels. Go to Channel Settings > Advanced

Your channel will appear as a recommendation based on other channels that are similar to yours.

With or Without You

“Communities will happen with or without you on YouTube. You want to make sure you’re the one leading the discussion in a fruitful direction” (80).

Community management is incredibly important in fostering engagement, anticipating growth, soliciting useful feedback, and a host of other objectives. This is a scary truth many organizations don’t like to hear: consumers are talking about you whether you like it or not. YouTube acts as an excellent conduit for dialogue and interactions between creators and audiences. Be proactive in rewarding loyal fans. Pick their brains on how to improve your offers and give them access to exclusive content. Feature them in some of your videos. After all, you would be nothing without them.

Top Fans

If you have over 5,000 subscribers, you’re in luck. YouTube is rolling out a new feature called “Top Fans” which offers greater “tools and insights” into your subscribers (81). You must sync your Google+ page with your YouTube channel to access these capabilities. According to page 81, “Top Fans” data will include:

  • A list of top fans (refreshed daily).
  • A recent comment.
  • The number of subscribers to their channel.
  • An engagement score.
  • The date they subscribed to your channel.

This information can kickstart your community outreach initiatives in connecting with your most loyal supporters. You can begin quantifying weighted reach, influence, and engagement. Keep an eye on original subscription dates when determining lifetime value and the subscriber life cycle.

There are many other actionable tips that can be found in the Creator Playbook. In fact, the “Metrics” section merits its own separate discussion when examining paid, owned, and earned media benchmarks. For more information, check out ReelSEO’s Creator Playbook breakdown.