I receive a good many requests on my YouTube channel for suggestions on how to produce quality content, increase viewer traffic, and generally be better at playing Mega Man. Over the years, I've been happy to oblige—I may not necessarily be the foremost expert in any of the aforementioned matters, but I've enjoyed enough success to have at least a few insights, and I love sharing my interests, knowledge, and advice with others.
What follows is a collection of pointers and recommendations for aspiring YouTube stars, especially those focusing on video game playthroughs. I'll cover Mega Man tips and tricks in a separate post, as there's more than enough ground to cover as it is with creating and promoting videos. I make no promises about the effectiveness of my suggestions, but I hope you will find them helpful, and I welcome your feedback!
How do I become popular on YouTube?
Before we even begin to address that question, make sure you're sure of what you're asking. I make a key distinction here: If people visit your channel, that's attention; if people keep coming back for more, that's popularity. I've got plenty of ideas about how to attract attention to your videos, but it's ultimately your content that determines your popularity. Content is king. Content is the difference between a screaming baby and a screaming baby made of solid gold.
It's safe to make three assumptions about your content, whatever it may be:
1.) Someone's already done it
2.) Someone's already done it better
3.) Someone's going to do it even better in the future
These assumptions are humbling, but not crippling. Until you are being hailed by the entire Internet as "the next Star Wars Kid," let these assumptions serve as constant reminders that you are not the next Star Wars Kid. It's not the number of views that matters so much as whether your video is worth watching in the first place. Take Hollywood as an example: Avatar may have way outgrossed Serenity at the box office, but there's enough room in the universe (and in fans' hearts) for both Pandora and Miranda. Regardless of the number of fans, each of these movies brings enough content to the table that viewers find to be worthwhile.
That's really all there is to it: figure out what it is that makes your videos worth watching. For my Mega Man videos, it's the unique blend of clean humor, informative and thoughtful commentary, skillful and experienced playing, creative special weapon use, goofing around, and showing off. Other people specialize in damage-free runs or rely on gimmicks to set themselves apart. Even if you're a strictly average player with no particular experience with making commentary, enthusiasm (or outright hatred) for a game goes a long way.
Once you've determined the appeal of your videos, be careful not to ruin it with any of the following:
- Overlong introductions. Unless you're the Star Wars Kid, assume that no one knows who you are, and that no one cares. Say hello and get on with it. If you haven't told a funny joke, started playing, or done something to grab people's attention within the first 10-20 seconds of the video, you've effectively lost your audience.
- Dull or repetitive video footage. It's okay if you're not very good at Metroid, so long as you edit out the worst parts that aren't hilariously bad. Unless you've got awesome commentary, your video is going to drag if you show yourself dying in the same spot in the same way for five minutes straight. The same goes for taking your hands off the controller to talk about something—a momentary pause is fine, but any more than 5-10 seconds becomes interminable if your character isn't preparing to take a nap on the floor and mutter about pasta in his sleep.
- Excessively awkward, repetitive, or long-winded commentary. Plan out what you want to say in advance, and practice it. Pay attention to the words or phrases you use frequently (like, um, you know, etc.), and guess how many times you can get away with saying them before your audience wants to rip their ears off. And, if you're truly uncomfortable recording audio commentary, stick with text commentary.
- Unsettlingly loud noises. Please, warn people if you are going to scream at the game.
- Terrible video/audio quality. You don't need to have state-of-the-art equipment, but a Handycam recording your TV over your shoulder probably won't cut it anymore.
How do I promote my YouTube videos?
Once you've got some good content lined up, the next step is to make it accessible to the people who might like to see it. The best videos promote themselves; word of mouth is powerful indeed, but there are plenty of ways you can nudge your videos into the spotlight:
- Keep your channel organized. If viewers like your work, it shouldn't be a challenge for them to find and watch everything you've produced. Playlists are invaluable, not only for video series but for individual, unrelated videos that would get lost in the archives without a "Random Videos" playlist to hang out in. And, for the love of Xenon, choose a visual theme for your channel that doesn't leave people squinting to read the text.
- Provide descriptive, unique titles for your videos. "Let's Play [Name of Game]" is right out, unless you've got an eye-catching subtitle. Imagine how your video will appear in a list of search results—would you pay any attention to your title?
- Along those same lines, select interesting, readily identifiable video thumbnails that show up well at a small resolution. If the name doesn't attract someone's attention, maybe the picture will.
- Don't be lazy: write video and playlist descriptions. This will help you in search results, and this also provides your viewers with something to read if they start to grow weary of your video—which will buy you at least a few more seconds for your video to get to a more interesting part.
- Provide meaningful search tags. If you were to misplace your video, what terms would you use to find it? Use quotation marks if certain words are likely to be searched for together, like "Phoenix Wright" or "bologna sandwich." List everything you see in-game: trees, bottomless pits, monkeys, bazookas, etc. List everything about the game: system, release year/decade, genre, publisher, difficulty, etc. Use lots of adjectives, and don't forget to reference what you talk about in your commentary.
- Respond to comments. All of them. Creating videos is more rewarding when you're connecting with the people who enjoy them; people remember you better if they've had a conversation with you; and you can build a community of fans by simply taking a few moments to chat.
- Leave comments on other people's channels and videos. If you've got interesting things to say, or if you've at least got a cool username, people may follow you back to your channel.
- Promote your videos outside of YouTube. E-mail your family when a new video comes out, put a link to your channel in your forum signatures, embed your videos in posts on your blog, rent a zeppelin with your channel name printed on it, etc.
- Refrain from harassing your viewers. If they like you, they'll subscribe. If you're on Twitter, or Facebook, or wherever, it's fine to make those links available—just don't beat people over the head with them.
Time to put some of this advice into practice, I'd say. Let me know how things work out, and whether you've got any suggestions of your own!