How to grow your YouTube subscriber base

When it comes to YouTube, there are numerous metrics to keep your eye on, but only one you should optimize. With algorithm changes rightly de-emphasizing view count, many marketers and content creators have shifted their focus to optimizing minutes watched and completion rates. But these metrics are just byproducts of having engaging content -- it's pretty hard to optimize your video's completion rate if your video is boring. 
Instead of completion rate, here are three reasons to focus on increasing your subscriber base. If you increase your total number of subscribers, you can sit back and watch everything else magically fall into place. Well, not magically, but it's pretty easy to see the benefits.

  • Subscribers are your biggest cheerleaders. Your subscribers are your most passionate and loyal fans. They'll not only watch more of your content (increasing views and minutes streamed), but they also do the bulk of sharing and commenting.
  • Subscribers ultimately = higher engagement. More subscribers leads to increased engagement, which then leads to better and better search rankings on YouTube and greatly improved suggested video results (the top two sources for user acquisition). This, in turn, leads to more subscribers who see your content first when they visit YouTube; and, thus, the circle of life is complete.
  • Enable direct relationships. Finally, there's one last important reason to increase your subscriber base outside of engagement. If you're trying to build a direct relationship with your audience on only one platform, you're going to have a bad time. By getting a viewer on YouTube to subscribe, you're actually building a relationship on two platforms.
    Every time you upload a video to YouTube, you have the option to "notify your subscribers by email." This doesn't mean your subscribers will get an immediate email, but rather, YouTube sends out a weekly email to subscribers which may include your content, if it's engaging.
    If you have a fledging YouTube channel, building subscribers can seem like a mountainous task. The first step you should take is to cross promote it with your other marketing channels, be it social, email, blog, or onsite. We found that by far, integrating our YouTube channel with our Google+ page produced the biggest positive change to daily new subscribers.
    So far, the prevailing storyline has been that YouTubers are upset about the forced integration (mostly due to the comment system), but it's quite simple: YouTube is pushing Google+ and you should too. You'll be rewarded for working with YouTube rather than complaining about their changes. First of all, by adding Google+ you'll gain access to your "top fans." These are YouTubers who are subscribers to your channel and who you can sort by "influence" or the number of subscribers that they have.
    As an example, at my current company, which is focused on international TV shows, we asked three of our top fans to create a "Drama Club." The Drama Club discusses the latest episodes. We then upload these fan contributed videos to our channel. Not only do we get new appealing content, but our Drama Club members then promote the video to their subscribers and, in turn, we promote our Drama Club members to our fans to increase their reach.

Along with fan discovery, Google+ is also increasingly seen as a signal for SEO. According to SeoMOZ's 2013 survey of 120 search engine marketers, the total number of Google +1s is the second highest correlated ranking factor behind page authority.
Although Google's head of webspam, Matt Cutts, pointed out that correlation does not equal causation (don't chase +1s), he also suggested, in the same breath, that creating and highlighting great content is where you should spend your time. By integrating YouTube with Google+, you'll be able to cross post your content to Google+ for increased exposure.
Thus, focus on building subscribers and everything else will fall into place. Make sure the basics are covered such as using all the tags (rather than just one or two) and putting related videos in playlists. As long as your subscriber count is going up, so will views, minutes streamed, and revenue.

Yale Wang is the head of marketing at DramaFever.

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