Recently I’ve been running some experiments with a second channel. The goal is to test out some YouTube theories and try to make some useful conclusions.
I’m not able to put out content for my main YouTube channel as much as I’d like right now. So I figured perhaps a gaming channel would be a good way to create some kind of regular content for testing.
The other main reason was because I couldn’t believe a gaming channel was as difficult to grow as people seem to make it sound.
I’m in a YouTube group on Facebook that currently has around 15,000 members. These are creators of all kinds, but the largest types, by far, are gamers and vloggers. Both of which regularly report how difficult it is to grow.
I see people who’ve had a gaming channel for 2-3 years still not break that 100 subscriber mark.
To clarify, I made this channel a couple of years ago when I was still playing World of Warcraft. I only really used it to put up a few videos of fun moments with friends and guildies. I never wanted to be a “YouTube gamer”.
When I quit playing WoW, the channel had 8 short crappy videos, around 2500 total views, and 14 subscribers. And it stayed that way ever since, until I decided to start this experiment.
When I decided to restart the channel for this experiment, I went with a completely new (to me) game. Guild Wars 2. It looked fun, and there’s a decent amount of channels out there for it already on YouTube with which to compete. So, how could a noob like me make my channel known?
I’d never played this before. In fact, I installed it the night before deciding to stream. I figured it would be good to let it download all its updates. Then, the first time I actually load the game is at the beginning of the first stream.
So, with that, let’s have a look at what happened.
And, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to link the channel here, as I’m trying to not pollute my experiment with external influences. I’m looking at solely organic growth using YouTube’s own algorithm.
Quick summary of the results
At the time of writing this, 10 days after my first stream, the channel sits on around 8500 total views, and 144 subscribers. These have come organically through YouTube itself. I have promoted the feed nowhere, really. 8500 isn’t quite accurate, as YouTube analytics generally tend to lag a day or two behind.
Compared to the reports I usually see in YouTube related Facebook groups, this growth seems pretty ridiculous. 6,000 views and 130 subscribers in 10 days on a tiny channel that hasn’t been used in over a year?
I have posted to a page I made for my channel that has 3 followers (one of which being me) just to show YouTube an external backlink. I wanted to see if posting to Facebook really makes any difference. I’ve told a small handful of friends about it so they can follow my progress, too.
My YouTube account is also linked to a Twitter account which also has a meaninglessly low number of followers. Again, this is just to see if the backlink helps with the algorithm.
Even after such a short space of time, I already have a small but loyal following. I see the same people who keep coming back. I’ve also connected with a few of them in-game.
My initial strategy
My strategy for each video is fairly simple. Go with a good catchy title to entice people to want to watch. Have a good description that YouTube’s search & suggested algorithms can pick up on, and tag accordingly.
This is the same strategy I’ve been using on my main channel.
The last thing I want to do is turn my titles into clickbait that misleads the viewer. It should be about the content. I want the title to catch a person’s interest. I want it to make them click to see more, but the content must deliver on the title’s promise.
I like long descriptions. I don’t spam the description with a lot of nonsensical information just to fill it up, but I do want a good long description there of what the content is about.
This description is primarily for the benefit of YouTube, rather than the viewer, although it is there for the viewer, too, should they choose to read it.
I’d already formed my own conclusions about tags, and how I choose to tag my videos. Purely coincidentally, I ended up using a process very similar to that which Derral Eves describes in this video.
So far, it’s working well, although I am experimenting. I have some ideas I want to try to see if or how they may benefit.
This is split up into two sections. Like the titles, I want the thumbnail to be enticing. I want the viewer to notice it, and I want it to make them click.
Why it’s split up into two sections is because I’m not only recording a video and uploading it. I’m also doing live streams. More on the live streams in the next bit.
But my thought process for the two is pretty much the same.
The thumbnail for the individual edited videos is relevant to that video’s content. A screenshot from some time during the video.
For the live streams I’ve been using the same thumbnail for each stream that encompasses the “series” as a whole. I still keep it relevant, though.
For example, the gameplay that I’m streaming right now, is about levelling up my first warrior. So, I have a GW2 warrior related thumbnail for each of the warrior related streams.
When I stream a different class, I’ll use a thumbnail for that class. Or, if it’s for a specific set of tasks, dungeons, or a new expansion, I might use a thumbnail centred around that task, dungeon or expansion.
Basically, keep them relevant.
This is something I didn’t anticipate. As I said above, I figured if I had to play the game to record it anyway, why not stream it as I was doing it?
I thought maybe a couple of friends might tune in to make fun of me while I was recording. Or the occasional random person might stumble across it and ask a question or two. Perhaps suggest some content I should check out.
What I didn’t expect is how popular it would become, and what a driving force it would be in finding new viewers & subscribers.
Day 1 (Tada!)
And the first couple of nights it was pretty much like that. On my first evening, over an hour and a half, I received 131 viewers. I averaged about 8-10 people at any given time.
I was pretty pleased with this, especially considering I hadn’t used the channel in a year, and it only had 14 subscribers at the beginning of the night.
Maybe YouTube’s just being nice to me because I haven’t streamed in a while, so it’s showing it to a few people to see what happens. At least, that’s what I thought.
Day 2 (Where’d everybody go?)
The following night I streamed for over 2 hours. My results were even worse. The second stream only received 13 total playbacks, and never had more than three concurrent viewers.
That’s it, I thought, YouTube hates me. That initial “You haven’t posted in a while, so let’s tell people” boost is over.
I now have an idea why this second stream ended up being so pathetic after an observation last night. I’ll get back to this.
Day 3 (Holy crap, how busy?)
So, Day #3. This is when all hell broke loose. Holy crap. 1520 playbacks. It ended up being so popular that I stretched this one out for 4 hours. I didn’t have to be up early the next morning, so why not?
I could not believe how busy this feed became. Originally, I had planned to go 2 hours in, but you can see that right around 00:30, when I had originally planned to end, I actually started to see an increase.
I was curious, so I stuck with it until I just couldn’t stay awake any longer.
Day 4 (This is awesome)
The next night, a similar occurrence. Although, this stream was even busier. 1087 playbacks in just over 2 hours.
Day 5 (YouTube had a hiccup)
Then the same the following night. Similar duration of play, similar amount of playbacks. It probably would’ve been a little higher if YouTube hadn’t taken a dump in the middle of the stream and kicked everybody off. Fortunately, most of them came back.
Day 6 (WoW)
The following evening, the Guild Wars 2 servers were down. There had been a power outage in Germany that was causing all kinds of issues. So, I couldn’t play.
Instead, I decided to give the GW2 guys a little taste of World of Warcraft. Needless to say, this didn’t prove to be all that popular.
I did adjust my title and thumbnail to match the fact that I was streaming WoW instead of GW2. A few of the people who came had been coming to watch on previous nights did come back to hang out.
They asked questions about WoW (several of them had never played it before), and were interested in my thoughts on the differences between the two games, but only 285 playbacks in total over an hour and a half.
Day 7 (No Stream)
The day after this, I didn’t stream at all. I took a break because I had prior commitments that I could not get out of. I did upload a couple of shorter videos that day to the channel, just to show YouTube that I was still pushing out content.
Day 8 (Back to Guild Wars 2)
I was back into Guild Wars 2 today. Having not streamed this content for a couple of days, I figured it’d take a bit of a hit. And it did, although not as badly as I had expected.
620 playbacks over two and a half hours. Not great, but not completely terrible, either.
Day 9 (Another 4 hour stream)
After last weekend’s results, I decided to go with another 4 hour stream. It did pick up the playbacks, although over a much longer time period than the previous evening. So, playbacks over the duration probably worked out to be about the same.
Day 10 (wtf happened?)
Ok, this is where I think I figured out what happened on Day 2.
So, what happened was, earlier in the day, I’d been testing some things. A friend had asked me some questions, and I wanted to demonstrate a few things on an unlisted live stream to show her. I also wanted to experiment a bit with some of the live stream settings I hadn’t tried before (like inserting cards).
When I started the main stream in the evening, I forgot to change it back to public. So, for the first 10-15 minutes of the stream it had zero people watching it due to being unlisted.
When I noticed I switched it to public, but it never really picked up steam. I think this may have been what happened on Day 2 as well.
I do remember this happening on another evening, but I could not remember which. Now it makes a little more sense why Day 2 was so dead.
Archiving the live streams
After each live stream ends, it automatically gets archived unlisted by YouTube. This gives me the opportunity to go in and change things before making it public.
First, I tweak the title to describe what happened during the live stream, and I update the description. I leave the entire live stream description in there, and add a couple of short paragraphs to the top describing what happened during the stream.
Finally, I then add the stream to a playlist containing all of the live streams, send it public, and save the settings.
Other gameplay videos
Every couple of days, I’ve also been uploading another, shorter, video. These are to document my progress in brief, and to highlight things I thought were pretty cool, or funny.
I posted a 2 minute video of my first in-game gift from a person who had been watching the stream (I thought that was pretty amazing).
There was a particular NPC that was obviously written with a bad attitude. I took great pleasure in being able to kill him at a future point in the game, so I edited about an hour’s worth of gameplay into a 13 minute video showing the whole story.
And I posted a couple of videos on Guild Wars 2’s notorious jumping puzzles.
These videos have also gone into a separate playlist, for showing some of the highlights of my levelling experience. They aren’t getting quite the views that the live streams are, but they’re getting enough that I’m happy, given the age and size of the channel.
How about those analytics?
Remember that YouTube’s analytics aren’t real time. They take a day or two to update. So, the reported view boost isn’t entirely accurate at the moment.
The Creator Studio says I’m at around 8300 views (up 5800 from my 2500 view starting point). Analytics says I’m up around 7,000 views. So, it’s understandable why some are confused by YouTube’s mismatched numbering system.
I haven’t manually gone through everything to figure out the exact numbers, but I’m not stressing about it too much, either.
Here you can see where my channel goes from flatline to when I started streaming. You can also see the dip where I streamed WoW for a day and took a break the following day.
I’m guessing that YouTube includes live stream conversations in the “Comments” bit, even though there doesn’t seem to be a way to access them once the stream has ended.
This kind of result from a resurrected dead channel that had no real previous audience (out of those 14 original subscribers, maybe 2 of them have actually come back to briefly check out the new content) has amazed me.
Pick the right game
I do think that picking a game with an established player base has helped me. I’m not going to pretend that it hasn’t. Obviously, a game that people have heard of is going to result in more people watching channels about that game.
I’m not saying that this can’t work on an entirely new game, but when you’re just starting out, if you go with a new game, then you probably need to choose one that’s been hotly anticipated, or widely searched.
For example, I imagine when Pokemon Go was still brand new, there were a lot of people searching for videos relating to it, especially as it wasn’t out in a number of countries initially.
It may be possible to create a popular channel based more around general gaming, although I’d probably suggest picking a single game to start with primarily, and then perhaps branch out into other games, and evolve the channel over time.
I haven’t tested this last theory, but I intend to. Although I don’t plan to ever go “general gaming”, I do plan to incorporate one or two other games at some point in the future. Exactly which games, and when, I do not know. But it’ll happen eventually.
Being honest has been a big factor. I stressed from the very start that I was a complete noob at this game. I’d never even loaded it before. I don’t try to pass myself off as an expert, and I couldn’t bluff my way through that claim, even if I tried.
People who are more experienced at a particular game than you will be able to spot a mile away that you’re a fraud if you try to play the expert.
If you want to come across as an authority, then BE an authority on that game. If you’re a noob, be honest, say you’re a noob. Use your channel to document your learning process.
Longer, more established players will respect you for it. Newer players like yourself, will hopefully be able to learn from your videos, and avoid making some of the same mistakes.
The effectiveness of live streams has really surprised me. I expected very few people to watch the live streams. I only did it because I figured I had to play the game anyway, so why not?
The live streams have become my most effective tool for gaining new subscribers. They’ve been fantastic for interacting with new and existing followers, too.
And even in this short amount of time, I’ve got “regulars”. And they’re not just engaging with me, either. They’re interacting with each other.
This is awesome for two reasons.
One it really starts to build up that sense of community. I’ve always believed that this is vital for any channel you want to succeed. You want your viewers to feel part of something. Not just a bunch of sycophants following a single person.
Two, more watch time. While they’re chatting with each other, the stream is still playing. This means more watch time on your channel, more engagement on the stream (YouTube doesn’t know or care who they’re talking to as long as they’re talking), which means it’s more inclined to start pushing the stream out to more people.
Two main points on live streaming, though.
- You need GOOD quality clear sound. Get a good microphone.
- The stream itself needs to look quality. Use OBS to create your own custom overlays to give your video a unique look, and not just the basic game.
Right now, I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way I can incorporate live streams into my main YouTube channel. They’re a lot of fun to do, but I also want to see if this experience translates to other genres.
Live Stream engagement
This follows on into the next topic, but essentially, the more engagement your live stream gets from the instant you go live, the better.
If it’s busy right at the beginning, YouTube will start showing it to more people. So, if you don’t yet have a large audience, don’t be afraid to ask a couple of friends “Hey, do me a favour, I’m about to go live. Watch my stream for 15 minutes and just chat with me on there?”.
Don’t feed them questions, tell them what to say, or anything like that, but just have a conversation with them as you might over Facebook, in person or over the phone.
Even if our friends are making fun of us (which they love to do), YouTube just sees engagement, and it will want to show your stream to more people.
Don’t put your stuff up unlisted
Whether it’s an edited and finished video, or a live stream, do not put it up “Unlisted” unless you don’t care about how popular it gets.
If it’s a pre-recorded video, make it private. Then edit your title, description, tags, cards, end cards, etc. and send it live when everything is ready to go.
If it’s a live stream, make it public right from the instant you start streaming. Otherwise, YouTube will see that the stream has had zero interaction from the beginning, and think it’s not very interesting. So, it won’t show it to as many people if you do switch it public part way through the stream.
Set YouTube to archive your streams unlisted
This is the exception to the unlisted rule. Live streams generally tend to get the majority of their views while the stream is actually happening live.
Few people will sit through a 2-4 hour live stream as a recording. There’s no interaction there, and it’s completely unedited, so they’re not going to sit through all the boring bits.
They’ll watch the first few minutes, or skip ahead, then go. These are there purely for reference, and for YouTube’s algorithm to see some related content on your channel to have a better idea what you’re about.
I have found, though, that people who watched that live stream, or people who played with me during that live stream will often go back and add a comment or two to that live stream video, even if they’re not watching the whole thing again.
So, make them unlisted, tweak the title and description, add them to a playlist, and then set them public.
Engage and interact
If you’re live streaming, the ideal setup is a computer with 2 monitors. One on which to play the game, and another that you can keep the chat on the whole time.
This way, you can see what people are typing to you, and respond to it over the stream as it comes in. I’ve also set OBS to add the YouTube chat over the game.
Then, if people are watching the replay, they can see the comments and know exactly what you’re responding to.
I also keep the stream event analytics up on my second screen, too. This way I can keep an eye on how popular the stream is, and even inject “cards” into the stream if necessary.
If you don’t have multiple monitors, or are streaming a console, then you can simply use an iPad or Android tablet (or phone) to keep an eye on the chat while playing.
On regular videos, and live stream archives, respond to every single comment that isn’t from a troll. Ignore the trolls, don’t feed them, and don’t worry about the thumbs down.
As far as YouTube is concerned, engagement is engagement, and the people responding negatively towards your content aren’t your target audience. If they’re not the people you’re trying to reach, then why do you care what their opinion is?
This initial experiment is going to warrant some more thorough long term testing to come to any real solid conclusions. But for now, I have a few.
- Creating effective titles and thumbnails is vital to get people to initially click and watch your video. This is standard across all types of channels. If it looks boring, they won’t watch. But don’t mislead.
- Appropriate titles, descriptions and tags is vital for YouTube’s algorithm to know where to suggest your content.
- “Unlisted” sucks for new content. Go private for edited videos while you set them up, and go public from the start for live streams.
- Engage with your audience to create a real community. Your audience are giving you their time, and they want to feel appreciated. Respond to comments on videos, and interact with the chat on live stream.
- Live streams seem to be almost vital for fast channel growth, but you want to set them up well. They don’t have to be perfect or emulate other people (I don’t have a webcam on mine, for example), but you do want them to look good. You also want crystal clear audio, or people will tune out quickly.
- External backlinks don’t seem to help with the algorithm unless they’re actually causing people to want to click on your content. Perhaps if you have tens of thousands of links to your channel or videos across the web, then maybe. But a handful of links on your own social media? Nah.
Maybe I got lucky. Perhaps some of my theories are just working out. But I am seeing noticeable changes which affect the stream positively or negatively when I do things a certain way.
Something about audio gear
I hadn’t mentioned much of my audio setup before, but having quality audio is essential for a live stream (or an edited recording). People will watch a crappy video all day long if the sound is perfect. But people will tune out of a beautiful video after 3 seconds if the sound is buzzy, muffled and difficult to make out.
I use a Rode NTG1 shotgun microphone on an arm attached to my desk. This is plugged into a Alesis mixer which then goes into my computer. This is a fancy setup, and I’m only using it because I already had this gear available to me.
If I didn’t have this gear, I’d go with something like a Rode Podcaster for top quality audio on a budget. But you could do just as well with a Blue Yeti, or even a Snowball if you’re on a really tight budget.
Above all, though, I think the key thing is to have fun and be yourself. If you’re not enjoying it and just forcing it for the sake of pushing out new content, your viewers will pick up on this.
I shall be continuing this experiment for the foreseeable future. It may even turn into a permanent thing for as long as it stays fun, and worth the time I’m putting into it.
But what interests me most of all are the surprising revelations I’m having (particularly about the Live Streaming). Now I just need to figure out how I might be able to incorporate those into my main channel in the future.