YouTube: 5 common mistakes you should avoid

YouTube: 5 common mistakes you should avoid (Unsplash/Alexander Shatov)

New YouTubers are often fixated on making everything perfect from the moment they create their channels, but making mistakes is part of the process, especially if you are just starting out.

While we all learn from mistakes, being a successful YouTuber would be hard to achieve if mistakes keep happening, so it’s best to avoid them. In fact, being a successful writer, editor, creative or just professional, is knowing the distinction between when something is ready to go or when you actually need to refine it

There is, actually, no limit to the amount of time you can spend editing or “perfecting” something. It is critical you depersonalize your work early and understand what makes it “good to go” or “in progress”. 

The first thing you need to figure out is what matters most – what can you never afford to ignore – so you can prioritize and distinguish those elements from the rest. To help you with that, these are key mistakes you need to avoid when starting a YouTube channel. 

If you remember and implement these, you have a solid foundation, but if you fail to or are inconsistent, you are leaving the potential of your work unfulfilled. Don’t leave subscribers on the table! 

Ignoring video thumbnail quality

Nothing affects video performance and channel growth more obviously or directly than video titles and thumbnails. It is where your brand engages with the audience’s subconscious and gets them to click. 

Prioritizing video editing without taking into account the best thumbnail images is quite common for new YouTubers. People are more likely to click on a video if the thumbnail is vibrant but simple. Therefore, using images that look busy and too cluttered is not recommended.

To capture their attention, a thumbnail should have the following simple features:

  • Get action shots to intrigue the viewers 
  • Put short yet effective thumbnail text in readable fonts
  • Use complementary colors 
  • Simple design

Even before filming, a YouTuber must think about how to title the video to garner the most views. 

Take Jonathan B. Allen, or better known online as MrBallen. He is a perfect example of using excellent and consistent thumbnail rules for all of his videos. His channel, which focuses on dissecting true crime cases and other mysteries, is not afraid to experiment with titles and format adjustments. 

His title experimentation is slow and gradual, and the changes are usually only noticeable over time - his brand remains recognisable through this process, allowing his audience to react instinctively based on their past experiences with his content. Same goes for his thumbnails. 

His thumbnails are simple but eye-catching. They often consist of a giant red arrow, an image of a mysterious screenshot and a small cutout of his reaction at the corner. His thumbnails are straightforward, but his choice of images spark the same interest and mystery as the stories he presents in his videos.

Though it may not have the fanciest design, it immediately grabs viewers’ attention on a recommended board. His channel has received over 1 billion views in total, with all his videos receiving millions of views. His rise from obscurity to enormous popularity is a great tale to study and learn from. Consistency, experimentation and then consistency again when virality took hold. 

Overfixation on views, subscribers

Given the end of our intro, this may seem counterintuitive, but it is about the whole game you play, not just a snapshot of your YouTube journey. 

It is easy to get caught up in the pursuit of views. After all, you must first increase viewership to monetize your YouTube channel and make a living as a content creator.

Views and subscribers aren’t easy to earn. One survey said it takes around 2 months just to reach 100 subscribers. That is why YouTubers must invest time in cultivating an audience. When done right, expect to see the rewards of doing many small things properly over time.

To get the first 1,000 subscribers or replicate viral success, you need to first understand the steps that precede those goals. Try learning about the following important YouTube metrics:

  • Impressions: the number of times a video's thumbnail was viewed. YouTube provides a handy tool to track these impressions from the Analytics tab.
  • Click-through rate: the percentage of viewers who watched a video after seeing its thumbnail. Typically, over half of all videos and channels have a CTR of 2-10%. Newer videos also tend to have lower CTRs, so don’t be discouraged if it’s low at first. 
  • Average view duration: the average time viewers spend watching a video. Aiming for an above 50% average view duration is good for YouTube’s search algorithm, as it tells the platform that people enjoy viewing your content to its fullest. 
  • Watch Time: the amount of time viewers spend watching a video. YouTube measures this by counting the amount of hours viewers have watched your content in the last 365 days. While there’s no set rule for watch time, it’s worth noting YouTube itself considers 4,000 watch hours to be worth a YouTube Partnership Program. 
  • Source of traffic: where people find and watch a video on YouTube. Much of traffic can be sourced within YouTube, mainly from Browse features, channel pages or campaign cards. You can check sources of traffic from YouTube’s Traffic Source Type card.
  • New versus returning viewers: a comparison of someone’s channel's new and returning viewers. You can get data from YouTube’s Returning and New Viewers metrics to measure this, and it’s helpful to see how far your audience reach or retention goes.

Gaining more views and subscribers is feasible if these behind-the-scenes variables are fulfilled. The metrics consistently point to thumbnails and titles being vital for YouTube videos. These traits encourage viewers to click on videos, thus increasing click-through rate. 

Lack of research

Research can sometimes be boring or stressful, but it is necessary to thrive as a successful YouTuber. Look into channels related to yours, be it beauty, cooking, nature, or anything else. 

MrBallen, for instance, does incredibly dedicated research on all the stories he tells, bringing new angle and insight into storytelling, even for an audience already very familiar with famous stories and internet lore. 

Start by opening the YouTube app and conducting basic searches. Afterward, consider these points to help you produce videos:

  • Analyze your competitors' channel activities.
  • Put yourself in their shoes, consider their weak points and how you would improve their content if you were them. That will also help you define your own identity. 
  • Look into the topics that viewers are looking for.

Consistency will be rewarded. If you are struggling with time, research AS you write, or record yourself while narrating through the process of research itself. 

Avoiding experiments, correctly

First of all, do not beat yourself up for making a slight mistake while experimenting with your YouTube channel. 

In fact, not experimenting is the biggest mistake you can make. You'll try some things that will fail but if you never try it, you'll never know whether it works or not.

Take, for example, YouTube Shorts. This vertical, sub-1-minute video format was released 2 years ago and it's the polar opposite of what most creators are accustomed to, which are long, horizontal videos. 

But, the reward has been phenomenal for those eager to experiment.

Just look at how Jake Fellman uses video game Shorts — which include 3D scenes from titles such as Among Us and Minecraft — on his channel. Those custom animations helped draw in over 4 million subscribers and 3.46 billion views.

Fellman began using Shorts when almost no one else did. As a result, he had little competition, which should give you a lesson to always experiment and explore new things. 

Splurging on equipment

One of the most common mistakes YouTubers make is focusing all their resources on expensive equipment. 

A high-quality camera, production lights, and a decent microphone will make your videos look and sound great, but video quality does not always guarantee views or subscribers. 

In fact, you really should not use these unless there is a good reason: you close that quality off to a large part of your potential audience who do not have access to the highest possible internet speeds. What does 8k matter to someone watching you on their phone while on a bus? If there is a reason – sure – but definitely not if there isn’t. 

Higher-end equipment also requires more setup and processing, which makes it a lot harder to put more content out and to focus on the content itself. 

Instead, start by broadening your creation and promotion expertise, such as understanding how to do keyword research, produce better videos or create fantastic thumbnails. Cheaper, universal and way more effective at helping you early on. 

You can learn from Rose Han, a popular female creator in the financial side of YouTube who started off her videos with a simple, somewhat blurry camera set on her face and a low-quality audio editor. Though the quality of her videos in 2019-2020 weren’t the best, her thumbnails are appealing and eye-catching and many of her titles were formatted in SEO friendly lists, leading to her earning over 600,000 subscribers. 

Another example comes from well-loved Black content creator Khadija Mbowe, who started off her channel with blurry and shaking videos clearly taken by hand. Despite the low quality of her videos, her thumbnail style and catchy titles successfully poked fun at society, bringing attention to her unique perspective on cultural phenomena. She now has over 23 million views on her channel, upscaling her production with her channel’s growth. 

The key takeaway is to invest your resources in making interesting, compelling content for your viewers and developing your setup to make it as easy as possible to focus on making great videos. 

To make your life easier and focus more on creating content and growing your channel, take a look at our other articles on outsourcing help and learning the basics of the YouTube algorithm, which provides some rationale as to why a lot of this matters. 

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