Youtube virality? Sure, but first get to the business.


Three billion one hundred sixty-three million two hundred five thousand nine hundred eleven.

No, this is not a number of grains of sand on Copacabana beach. This is a number of people who have, till this date, watched Gangnam Style. As we all know Gangnam Style, we can understand that there aren´t many channels that can launch people from total anonymity to stardom, in a way that Youtube can. In 2007. there have been news that a family who recorded legendary ”Charlie bit my finger” video earned 100,000 £ in advertising. Soon, the word ”viral” became viral itself, and the rest is history. Youtube has, in meantime, become social media giant. It’s promotion possibilities are used by nearly anyone who wants to be something in the online world. From athletes, politicians, professional gamers and also total anonymous.

Youtube has, in short period of few years, become a land of dreams come through. But it has also become a competitive arena in which hundred of thousands of videos fight for their place under the sun. For every video which becomes popular and reaches its potential, there are thousands of them who fail. Proof of that is Petit Tube – a webpage that gives you the opportunity to peek into almost surreal world of YouTube videos which no one has ever seen. If you have put effort into recording a video for YouTube and don’t want to become a member of inglorious ”0 views” club, this blog post is for you.

Before we go into detail, we want to bring one thing to your attention – often, you won’t have control over the popularity of your video. Lots of people became YouTube famous without any planning. They just managed to be in a right place in the right time. For all the others who are not that lucky, YouTube popularity will depend on many factors on which, luckily, we have an impact.

Optimization of a YouTube video is a complex process which includes long-term planning and playing with keywords. Unlike Google AdWords, YouTube optimization is not rocket science, but it’s not quite far from it too. Quality of adjusting your YouTube video for different search engines and also your users’ preferences, will affect its future popularity. The better you do it, the more success you will have. If you don’t, you can only pray that your child is the next Charlie.

The algorithm which positions videos on YouTube and also gives suggestions to user comes down to two simple points:

  • the time that users spend watching your video
  • reactions to your video

First one is particularly important. The number of clicks does not determine the popularity of a video, at least not in the way most people think. ”View count” is relatively easy to manipulate with and because of that YouTube prefers ”watch time” as most reliable metrics. In other words, the time users spend watching video will affect it’s positioning more than a number of clicks on it.

Secondly, reactions to a video refer to overall engagement the users manifest in relation to a certain video. The positioning of a video according to engagement depends on:

  • number of comments on a video
  • number of likes on the video
  • amount of embedding on different websites
  • amount of sharing on different social networks
  • number of subscribers on YouTube channel where the video is placed

This is only a small part of metrics that are relevant for YouTube (the rest you can find here) and only a small part of everything you need to keep in mind when you create YouTube content. The amount of tricks that are needed for perfectly polished optimization of a YouTube video is big enough to write a book. Because of that, I decided to define a few things that you need to have in mind while creating YouTube content that most YouTubers either aren´t aware of or they don´t give them enough attention.

So, let’s start:

#1 Virality is not gifted, it is earned.

This point is possibly the most important of them all. You can read all the books on optimization you want, but if the content of a video is not interesting enough for certain amount of users, the chance for its success, among all the other content, is zero. Creating quality content in any shape or form is not a simple thing. As Truman Capote wrote, he spent six years gathering information and writing the book ”In Cold Blood”. Richard Linklater spent twelve years filming his masterpiece, ”Boyhood.” Creating top content asks for a lot of effort, work hours and preparations. Of course, we live in a time of instant gratification and instant stars, so it is possible that a video that was created accidentally and was put zero effort into, can become the most watched video in the world. But for the most people one rule applies – your results will depend on how much effort you´ve put into creating that content. Planning of a YouTube video is no exception. I know everyone gets a little bit irritated by the famous mantra that ‘’content is a king’’, but guess what – content IS king. A good concept will always come up on its own. I can´t tell you how to make a video that simply has to become viral (and if I could, I would use that recipe for myself and earn millions on advertising), but I can help you with optimizing its content in a way that it reaches its full potential in an easiest possible way.

Remember, virality is indeed sometimes just a lucky coincidence, but for most people, it won´t be like that. It has to be earned.

#2 YouTube is not that smart. Take advantage of it.

YouTube is a result of thousands and thousands of hours and effort put in by very smart people. I think everyone gets that. This is the program which knows very well what it wants and how to achieve that. But still, YouTube is only a big set of codes which means that it can be tricked in some way if you have enough knowledge. YouTube will check every data available for your video, but the thing that YouTube will never be able to do is – to know exactly what is the content of your video. Use that and optimize your video before you even upload it.

When we talk about SEO (Search engine optimization) YouTube acts very similar to Google. Optimization of a Youtube video is not very different to optimization of any other content you would put on the internet and that you want to be seen in different search engines. Before you put a video on YouTube, the video file itself needs to be optimized too. On the picture below, you can see how that kind of optimization is done. So, let´s start:

  • The name of the document should be exactly the same as a title of a video. If you decided to make a video titled ”Funny Cat Fails OMG”, name your video file document the same.
  • Add relevant tags to your document.
  • Add relevant description to your document.
Optimize your video for YouTube and give it a final touch.

Optimize your video for YouTube and give it a final touch.

You can now upload your video to YouTube and optimize it there too.

#3 Good title is half of work.

This is so logical that I even thought of not mentioning it as a point. But, the basics are good to repeat from time to time.

While defining the title of your YouTube video you need to use those 100 symbols, including the spaces, the best you can. The title of your video is often the only contact you will have with the users and because of that, it is very important that it is tempting. Let´s imagine that you decided to make a video about black holes and you don’t know whether to name it ‘’Black holes’’ or ‘’ Science of black holes: One of the biggest mystery of the universe.’’

It is clear that the second one is more specific, informative and at the end of the day, simply better. A hundred symbols is not that little as it seems, so it is in your interest that you use that space the best you can. The same goes for the name of your channel. It is not really in your best interest to name your channel “p00ssyl0ver”.

While naming your channel, take care of using keywords, in the same manner, you would do it for any other SEO.

#4 Good description is another half.

5 000 symbols. FIVE THOUSAND! That’s how many symbols YouTube offers you to write a coherent description of your video. Well skilled history teacher could write a short history of humanity in five thousand symbols. With five thousand symbols you can write a short novel and a cookbook. When YouTube offers you that much space – use it!

Of course, you don´t need to use all the five thousand symbols for a description of a cute cat video, but don´t leave it empty, as a heart of my ex. Use that space. Here are a few reasons why you should do it:

  • The description is also an important part of YouTube optimization.
  • Description, as its name says, describes what is the video all about which is very helpful when you have a long video with lots of information. The more people benefit from your video the better is the chance they will share it with others.
  • You can include lots of bonus materials and references related to your video in the description which brings it added value and it definitely won´t go unnoticed.
  • You can add a link to your social media accounts.
  • You can add a link to your official web pages.

Be sure that the main message of your video comes first and other less important details leave for the last rows of text. You have only three rows of text which are visible to users underneath the video. For the rest of it, the users must click on the ”show more” option.

Let´s watch two videos on the same topic and then compare them. The subject is a paradox of unstoppable force. The first video was filmed by Henry Reich, better known as MinutePhysics (a channel that I would recommend to everyone), and the other one is by Kelly George. The first video has over 10 000 views while the second one has barely 1000. Of course, many factors, like video quality, content quality, presentation, optimization and many others, influenced by that difference in views. But that is not that important right now. Let´s focus on the description of the first video.

Quality video description.

High-quality video description.

As we can see, it´s a quality written description. As always, there is room for progress and it could be more informative but the other elements are here – link to social media, description of the channel itself, ”thank you notes” and link to official merchandise. MinutePhysics sure used description space well.

And now let´s take a look at the second video description or the lack of it. Do not do this. Give people material and reason to press that thumbs up under the video. Ok, Kelly George is probably not someone who cares much about virality and he uses his channel for himself and his friends, but that is not the point now. This is just one example of a bad description filling or none of it. There are thousands of YouTubers who clearly want to create a brand, but they are skipping this step. Don´t be one of them.

Low quality video description.

Low-quality video description.


#5 Thumbnails matter. Make them fancy.

One of the most neglected factors of quality YouTube videos optimization are thumbnails. These little pictures (miniatures) are the only visual contact people will have with your video before they decide whether they are going to open it. According to the golden rule of advertising – thumbnail should scream, ”click on me”. Of course, it shouldn´t be overly dramatic, to the point where you annoy users. It should be subtle and charming enough to attract attention. Audrey Hepburn. That’s it! Make your thumbnail look like Audrey Hepburn breastfeeding Bambi in her arms.

Even though common sense tells us that it is important to make your thumbnail attractive, it´s enough to take a quick look over YouTube and come to a conclusion that many of its users are not aware of this rule. Let´s go back to our examples one more time. If you write “immovable object vs unstoppable force” in YouTube search bar, the first result you will get is this:

High quality thumbnail.

Scroll little more and you will see this:

Low quality thumbnail.

I don´t want to go into talking about design because my knowledge on it equals Bob Sapp´s about synchronized swimming. Not much. But it is perfectly clear that thumbnail of a first video is the winner here. It is visually dynamic and has semiotic weight. Elements of that thumbnail are in a mutual relationship and they are telling us a story. From that story, you can´t really tell what video is about, but that is not as important now – thumbnail is calling you to click on it and that is all that matters.

The second thumbnail shows finger pointing to a sign of infinity. That thumbnail doesn´t speak anything to me, you and certainly someone who doesn´t know anything about the paradox of unstoppable force. It is just visually unused space. Invest time in creating your thumbnail because it should show your video in the best possible light. Be sure that it is visually attractive and informative as it can be.

The aim of this article is to give you a basic insight into a complex world of YouTube optimization and it should give you a good introduction to building your YouTube campaign. An algorithm which ranks videos is extremely complex and it demands your full attention if you want to achieve maximal results. But, no matter how complex the optimization is, the fundamental rule is simple – optimization is an expensive set of tools which will help you promote your content. Optimization is not a magic formula. Quality of content should always be your priority, and algorithms and social media will then do their job. If your content is bad, you are just wasting your time.

If you have recognized the need for quality content in your work, give us a call.