How to Reach 1 Million YouTube Subscribers In 5 Years or Less

In 11 steps, you can take your YouTube channel from its current size to 1 million subscribers. Keep reading to learn how.


On YouTube, few milestones are as satisfying as getting 1 million subscribers. After years of filming and uploading, watching your channel go from zero to hero is everything. It’s even better than gaining your real first subscriber (who isn’t a robot or sub4sub operative).

But what does it take to grow your audience and receive the infamous gold YouTube plaque?

In this episode of TubeTalk, we share tips to help creators of all sizes hit 1 million subscribers. Regardless of your niche, Vyyyper (vidIQ executive producer), Daniel Holzhauer (social and community manager), and Rob Wilson (YouTuber-in-residence) share the secret sauce for rapid growth. And guess what? We used these same strategies to grow the vidIQ channel to 1 million subscribers!

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First, Break Your Million-Subscriber Goal Into Smaller Chunks

One million is a big, intimidating number. To reach that many subscribers on YouTube, you should break the figure into mini-goals that are easier to process.

For example, you can plan your growth as follows:

Chunking it out this way will keep you focused and motivated. Instead of thinking, I must reach 1 million subscribers as fast as possible, you free yourself from lofty expectations.

11 Strategies to Reach 1 Million Subscribers on YouTube

Increasing your subscribers on YouTube is surprisingly formulaic. While some creators grow their audiences using different topics, one thing remains constant: You must hook viewers, deliver the value they’re craving, and convince them to return. Do these three things, and you’ll turn casual viewers into loyal subscribers.

Here are 10 actionable tasks that make the journey easier.

1. Find Your Niche on YouTube

Your channel needs a clear niche regardless of the content you upload. It’s hard to accept, but people won’t subscribe if you keep switching your channel’s theme. In fact, they may never return if you switch from lifestyle content to sports commentary to gardening to cryptocurrency. They’ll wonder, Where are the videos I subscribed to see?

Read More: How to Choose the Best Niche for Your YouTube Channel

On the vidIQ channel, we hit 1 million subscribers by finding a niche and sticking to it. We were all about YouTube education, and people subscribed because we constantly shared YouTube advice, tutorials, and news.

“We were the first channel to really talk about hashtags as a new search traffic driver…. [YouTube] sent that video to the top of the search rankings, and its been there ever since,” Rob says. “That was a catalyst for us to think about how we could be the primary resource for all sorts of basic YouTube education.”

We sort of stumbled into the YouTube education lane, but don't hesitate on your own channel; declare a niche as soon as you're ready.

2. Create a Service-Based Channel That Helps Viewers Succeed

The more you serve your audience, the bigger your channel grows on YouTube.

It sounds like a cliche – an obvious statement that makes creators say, “Duh!” But thousands of people skip this important step.

So when you create your channel, ask yourself a brutally honest question: What is the specific value I’m providing viewers?

Read More: How to Make the EXACT Videos YouTube Subscribers Want to See

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. But just know that to gain 1 million subscribers, you need some sort of answer. You’re not making content to please yourself; you’re trying to solve a problem in the viewer’s life, whether that’s extreme boredom or needing to buy a single-family home on a tight budget. It all depends on your niche and the challenges people face. How can you help them succeed?

3. Master the Ultimate YouTube Duo: Video Title + Thumbnail

What if we told you viewers spend less than three seconds deciding which videos to watch? How would you make your content stand out on YouTube after hearing that?

There’s only one correct answer this time. To get more subscribers, you need attractive YouTube thumbnails and emotional video titles. Both items are the lifeblood of your channel, and together, they attract viewers before you’ve spoken a word.

People watching a YouTube video on one phone
“You’re just trying to get someone to see it and stop that scrolling action,” Daniel says. “It’s the same as when you’re looking through your Instagram feed; you’re looking through Twitter, you’re half reading, you see something – and boom. You stop, and you look at it…. that’s how YouTube is.”

4. Add a YouTube Subscribe Button to Your Videos

The easiest way to gain subscribers is to display a watermark that reads, “Subscribe” on all your videos. When viewers click this button, they have the option to…well, subscribe. Pretty simple, right?

Once you have an image you want to use as a subscribe button, all you have to do is upload it to the branding section of your channel.

Here’s how to add that watermark to YouTube videos:

  1. Go to the YouTube Studio and click Customization in the left menu.
  2. Click the Branding tab near the top of the page.
  3. Scroll down to the Video Watermark section.
  4. Upload your image and choose when you want it to appear in your videos: at a custom timestamp, the end of your video, or the entire time.

And here are the image requirements for YouTube watermarks:

  • Image size: 150 x 150 pixels
  • No animations
  • PNG, GIF, BMP, or JPEG files (1MB or smaller)

5. Use YouTube End Screens to Promote Your Videos

End screens help you get more YouTube views and attract subscribers. These interactive screens appear at the end of videos and allow viewers to click on extra content from your channel. So instead of someone watching one video, you encourage them to watch two – possibly three if the following video has another end screen.

Read More: YouTube End Screens - How to Make Cool Video Outros

As you recommend more content, viewers begin to understand the value of your videos. That builds a compelling case for why someone should subscribe to your channel. If you add a subscribe button to all of your end screens, that seals the deal too.

But here's a tip: Instead of placing two or three videos on your end screen (plus a subscribe button), display just one video.

“It was actually Ed from Film Booth who kind of teased this idea of having one very intentional end screen,” Rob says. “If you give someone more than a few options, they’ll have choice paralysis. Give them one option and be very explicit about why they should choose that option.”

6. Be Engaging on YouTube to Retain Viewers

If you want to grow your channel to 1 million subscribers, you should make content people crave. That’s easier said than done, but you can succeed by focusing on one YouTube metric: audience retention.

A video has three crucial “moments” for retaining viewers:

  1. The intro: How many people are still watching after the first 30 seconds?
  2. The chapters: As you move from scene to scene, are viewers staying or leaving?
  3. The outro: Are people making it to the end to click your end screen and watch more content?

Read More: How to Increase Audience Retention on Every YouTube Video

The length of your video doesn’t matter as much if the whole thing is entertaining. To achieve that, slowly improve your average view duration. This is a percentage showing how long viewers watched a video on average.

“Whatever length your video is, get people to watch that video for as long as humanly possible,” Vyyyper says. “I think that’s the real metric.”

7. Capitalize on Trending YouTube Topics

Want to introduce your content to potential subscribers? Follow trending topics within your niche, then make videos about the ones that matter to your audience. If you include high-volume keywords that aren’t too competitive, your video could really take off.

You might see something like this in the YouTube Studio if that happens:

The key here is to prioritize audience overlap. Make sure the trend has some crossover between your current viewers and those excited about the trend. Both audiences should have similar goals – learning to cook, discovering new music, etc. – so new subscribers have a reason to watch non-trend-related videos.

“We did quite a lot of trend jacking and surfing two or three years ago when I was looking at the Pewdiepie versus T-Series subscriber race,” Rob says. “We got a lot of traffic from it and a lot of new viewers, but they weren’t necessarily interested in YouTube education. They were interested in the subculture of the subscriber race.”

8. Upload YouTube Videos Consistently

This tip is pretty straightforward but easy to miss: Create an upload schedule and stick to it no matter what happens. Posting videos consistently will help you retain the subscribers you’ve gained on the road to 1 million.

If you slip up and become inactive on your channel, viewers will depend on another creator for their entertainment or education. That pushes you 10 steps backward when you’re growing a channel.

9. Don’t Be Afraid to Pivot Your Content

We have a confession that will transform your YouTube journey forever.

The videos that attract your first 10,000 subscribers are worthy of celebration, but they won’t attract your next 100,000. Furthermore, videos that help you reach 500,000 won’t take you as far as 1 million – and that’s OK.

On YouTube, viewers change their interests over time. You should explore new video ideas to attract subscribers and retain old ones simultaneously.

Read More: 7 Tips to Craft Irresistible Video Ideas on YouTube

“Our target audience tends to be YouTube channels that are under 1,000 subscribers, and they are working toward monetization…. But there is so much more untapped audience out there – people who have monetized and want to turn their channels into businesses and full-time professions,” Rob says. “I think there’s also so much in YouTube culture that we just gloss over the surface of.”

No matter how well something is working on your channel, experiment. Test new video concepts to reach more viewers and get your channel discovered.

10. Outsource the Work You Can’t Handle Alone

Can you grow a YouTube channel to 1 million subscribers without help? It’s certainly possible. That’s what we did on the vidIQ channel.

But imagine how many subscribers we would have if we outsourced our extra work. With a team of people editing videos, writing scripts, and creating thumbnails, we might have 2 million subscribers.

“I think the one thing creators struggle with is giving up control,” Rob says. “You get to a certain size of community and content and quality that you have to start handing off these things.”

Once you have 500,000 subscribers or more, it’s time to audit your workflow. What’s the one thing stifling your productivity? Who could you hire to ease that burden?

11. Almost at a Million Subscribers? Live Stream the Final Moments

Let's say your channel is sitting at 980,000 subscribers and slowly creeping toward a million. There are two things you can do in this situation:

  1. Let people subscribe at a natural pace (within a few weeks).
  2. Live stream the experience to reach 1 million in a few days.

We chose to stream those final moments, and it paid off; viewers joined the celebration and started subscribing to help us reach our goal.

Here’s how we set up our million-subscriber live stream:

We ran a continuous stream on the vidIQ channel for a few days. None of us were talking or appearing on the stream yet, but we had a screen showing our live subscriber count. It was steadily ticking toward 1 million subscribers, so people knew the point of the video.

When we were close to 1 million, several creators at vidIQ hopped on the live stream. We continued to show the subscriber count, but now there was more discussion and intrigue. We talked about the journey to 1 million subscribers and shared YouTube growth advice.

Lastly, we displayed channel names as a free shout-out whenever someone subscribed. This really boosted our subscriber count. You can achieve the same thing using a plug-in from Streamlabs that feeds into a virtual cam from StreamYard.

How Long Does It Take to Reach 1 Million YouTube Subscribers?

There isn’t a unified answer to this question. vidIQ is a YouTube education channel, and it took us five years to hit 1 million subscribers.

Your channel is probably different, and as such, won’t grow along the same timeline. You could achieve your milestone in one year or a lengthy 10; it just depends on your niche and how aggressive you are on YouTube. Following the tips above will definitely speed up the process.

If you’re aiming for a million subscribers, chances are you want to go full-time on YouTube. Here are seven ways to build a solid income that supports your dream.