Updated: May 25
First, if you’re just starting out, take a look at our guide to creating a YouTube channel from scratch. It’s a lot of work but it’s also a clean slate. And, to help you save time, we’ve compiled a list of beginner tips for YouTube.
And now, in order from easiest to most complicated, our best practices for converting viewers into subscribers. Don’t tackle them all at once. Try out one of these tips for each new video you post, or implement one a week. Here we go.
1. Ask your viewers to subscribe
I told you we’re starting with the easiest ones first.
Sometimes your audience just needs to be reminded. The big red subscribe button is omnipresent, but you might also want to point out the bell beside it that turns on notifications for your new videos. Simple.
Does this tip seem too salesy to you? This is your reminder that you’ve got valuable content, and you’re just making it easier for them to keep up with the work you do.
If you’re already doing this, remember to demonstrate why your channel is worth subscribing to. And make sure you do it right when they love you the most (e.g., right after you’ve provided new and useful information, or you’ve made them laugh). Don’t do it too much, or you’ll risk turning people off.
2. End your videos by mentioning the one you’re working on next
Subscribing to a YouTube channel is an act of anticipation. Viewers who’ve just seen what your brand is about are primed to want more, if you’ve done your job right.
Hyping your next video, and making it clear why it’s not to be missed, is the most organic way to encourage people to tap subscribe.
Of course, this requires having a good handle on your content schedule, and knowing what’s coming next. (More on that soon.)
3. Interact with your audience and make friends
If you form relationships with your viewers, they’re more likely to want to keep watching your work. Respond to comments. Follow their channels back.
Yes, it’s exciting if a famous YouTuber comments on your video, but who knows who’ll be famous next year. Form a community of peers and promote each other. (Yes, I’m talking about shine theory.)
Also, once you’re plugged in, your audience will provide you with plenty of free content ideas for your next video. Don’t worry, you don’t have to take all of them.
Manage your YouTube presence using Hootsuite and not only can you upload and schedule videos, you can also add comment streams to your dashboard. That makes it easy to review, reply, and/or moderate comments on all your videos from one place.
4. Update your channel art
Your YouTube banner welcomes everyone who clicks over to check out your channel. Maybe they just watched a video and are looking for more. Maybe they’re a potential subscriber. Put your best foot forward.
Your banner needs to be clean, on-brand, compelling, and—this is the fussy part—optimized for all devices. You don’t want important details covered up by your social media buttons, for instance.
We have a handy guide for creating your own YouTube channel art, along with free templates with the most up-to-date dimensions.
5. Brand your thumbnails
A thumbnail is a 1280 x 720px still image that acts as a cover for your video. And they are also your first, best chance to persuade people to click on your video. (Aside from your video titles, that is, but more on that later.)
While some might advocate using the most “eye-catching” design (which seems to mean screaming red capslock over a man’s shocked face and a picture of a… tomato?), one size does not fit all on YouTube.
But we aren’t here to earn cold views.
To convert a viewer into a subscriber, take a look at your videos page. What does a new viewer see? Sleek, professional and consistent videos that imply an ongoing commitment to quality? Or a random mish-mash competing for attention?
You want to aim for consistent branding in all your thumbnails. Use the same font, the same colour palette, or even the same frame composition so people know (at least subconsciously) that they’re looking at a video from your channel.
For instance, John Plant has built his survivalist Primitive Technology channel up to 9.9 million subscribers with understated, minimalist thumbnails. They’re not loud, but they are consistent. And most importantly, they’re clickable.
6. Embed your videos on your website or blog
This one is win-win, because embedding video on your website may well help your site’s search rankings with the Google algorithm. And as far as YouTube subscribers go, you’re presenting your video right where the people most likely to care about it are already looking.
7. Use YouTube’s clickable tools in your videos
YouTube killed annotations a few years back, and good riddance. Pop-ups are one 90s throwback we’re all better off without.
That said, YouTube has some other, less annoying, tools for you to use:
End screens: these are still images at the end of your video where you can remind people to subscribe, or insert another call to action, before YouTube’s algorithm moves them on to the next video.
Branding watermarks: this is an extra subscribe button that will hover over your video throughout, even in full screen.
8. Think in terms of playlists
Playlists are a great way to increase your channel’s watch time. They also motivate people to click subscribe by lining up your best content in one place. (Or your related content, in several places.)
Epicurious, for instance, treats their YouTube playlists like TV series. It’s very bingeable and if, at the end, people want to be notified when there are new videos, they will subscribe.
9. Run a contest
If you want a short-term bump in engagement, or just feel like you’ve been languishing in a subscriber count plateau, check out our guide to running a YouTube contest.
Key steps include choosing a prize that matters to your audience, and asking viewers to subscribe and turn on notifications in order to participate.
10. Celebrate your subscriber milestones
Everyone loves a round number. Celebrate them and thank the people who got you there.
For inspiration, here is a video with reactions for every single milestone you could possibly ever hit.