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The YouTube trailer is an opportunity to encourage viewers to click to subscribe to your channel. More subscribers means more views…which means more revenue if you have chosen to go that route with YouTube advertising.

Aside from any financial reward, more viewers mean more people being aware of your brand and what you do. It is now also common practice for traditional official movie, TV and games trailers to be featured on YouTube.

Audiences are likely to search for trailers on YouTube before deciding to watch a movie/show or play a game. Testament to the use of YouTube for trailers is the YouTube Trailers Leaderboard. An algorithm that factors in paid views, organic views and audience retention statistics generates the Leaderboard.

In this article I am going to share with you some trailers that I feel represent trailer ‘good practice’. Then I am going to look at the features that seem to be common to the best trailers.

5 great YouTube trailers

1 Orange is the New Black – Netflix (TV series)

This Netflix series is represented brilliantly by this 2 minute and 42 second trailer. It provides an introduction to the story – i.e. that the main character is a middle-class white woman who has gone to prison for a crime she committed 10 years ago. It introduces some of the main characters, including the infamous ‘Crazy Eyes’. It reveals a couple of key plot elements to hook the viewer in and finally, it sets the pace and tone of the series.

2 We’re the Millers – Warner Bros. Pictures (movie)

This recent movie release trailer has all of the classic elements of a movie trailer. It introduces the story, the characters and the entertaining/comedic tone of the film. It is 2 minutes and 40 seconds long, which seems to be a good length for the YouTube trailer viewer.

3 Grand Theft Auto V: Official Game Play Video – Rockstar Games (game)

Gaming trailers tend to be longer because they are doing something more than a movie trailer, for example. This GTA trailer talks the viewer through what the producers have aimed to do on a number of levels including graphics, game plots, gaming features and improvements on the last game. For obvious reasons, the video includes footage of the actual game and it’s possibilities (e.g. the cutting between vantage points). GTA is famous for it’s life-like realism – their trailers are an important way to tell their loyal fans what to expect and to introduce new gamers to the GTA world.

Rhett and Link are possibly one of the finest examples of YouTube video creators. This trailer features on their channel page and was made specifically to encourage viewers to click to subscribe. It is 39 seconds long and shows the viewer what they can do by using snippets from some of their best creations. The quality of the trailer hints heavily at the quality of the rest of their videos.

5 The Young Turks (YouTube channel)

The Young Turks is a political talk show that was founded by host Cenk Uygur. The show also airs on Sirius Satellite Radio. The focus of the show is on politics but also includes other news including pop culture/entertainment. The channel currently has 1,261,084 subscribers, 16, 076 videos and more than 153 million video views. The current trailer for the channel is short at 35 seconds and is a quick introduction to what they do and their values.

What makes a great YouTube trailer?

From looking at these examples of great trailers, it is clear that there are elements to trailers that are necessary to make them work. Here is a summary of the characteristics of the best trailers.

1) Characters

Good trailers successfully introduce the main personalities in their movie/show/game. It offers a sense of who the characters are and how they fit into the story. For bigger productions, significance is placed on the celebrity status of particular actors/crew featured in the production.

2) The story – but not too much

The themes that are present in the story/show are introduced in a way that does not reveal too much. There is nothing worse than a trailer that gives the whole thing away. This is a delicate balancing act and editing trailers is a skill in itself – in fact, there are people whose sole job it is to edit trailers.

3) Highlights

The trailer is an opportunity to show off enough to make audiences want to watch the movie/show or play the game. Showing highlights slightly out of context is a good way to impress an audience without giving too much away. Movie trailers do this particularly well with action sequences and funny moments.

4) Tone

Key to a good trailer is the ability to set the tone of the movie/show/game. Music and narration play a big part in this. Music carries the trailer forward and sets a pace. Narration can summarise the key features of the production, giving the audience an impression of the tone.

5) Length

A successful trailer needs to be the right length for it’s audience and the context in which it will be viewed. It should be long enough to reveal the interesting characters and features (and to make the audience want to see more), but no so long that the audience feels like they know everything that is going to happen. You will see from the examples above that the length of some successful trailers can vary – games, for example, usually have longer trailers (because of the inclusion of gameplay features).

As with any video production, testing a trailer on an audience before releasing it can be a useful exercise and can help you make the best trailer possible. As said above, editing trailers is a very specific skill so look around at other good practice and take heed from the success and failure of others’ work.