Why You Need to Forget Everything You Know About YouTube: TubeTalk 176 with Greg Jarboe

YouTube is constantly changing and adding new features so as a creator it is vital to keep up with new developments on the platform. This week's episode of TubeTalk tells you why.

How does that saying go? If you've done what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten? Well, I'm afraid for YouTube that no longer applies due to the constant changes to the platform's algorithm. It's time to unlearn the old stuff and get with the new. Let's dive in to some YouTube changes that you need to know about.

Welcome to another episode of TubeTalk. I'm here with Greg Jarboe, an expert on YouTube, and the President and co-founder of SEO-PR. He is a prolific contributor to many industry publications (including vidIQ), and is also an author and an instructor at Rutgers for the Mini-MBA Digital Marketing program. In this podcast you will learn:

  • If all you do is chase what changed recently, you're always chasing the latest change
  • How to recognise what's important to YouTube
  • Why creating relevant video is key
  • Why what's trending on Google doesn't always means it's trending on YouTube too

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How to Start Again with YouTube: Full Transcript

Liron Segev: Greg, welcome to TubeTalk.

Greg Jarboe: Thank you Liron. It's nice to talk with the techie guy.

Liron Segev: Greg, is there anything I left out on this kind of vast list of items?

Greg Jarboe: Oh sure. Sure.

Liron Segev: Oh, there's more.

Greg Jarboe: You're merely summarizing the last 15 years. I have a long checkered career, but let's not go into that.

Liron Segev: How does it go, the famous saying? The only constant is change. These one thing that you do well is understand things that are changing and work out how to get around them and unpack this beast, unscramble this egg and give us some amazing insights.

Greg Jarboe: If all you do is chase what changed recently, you're always chasing the latest change. Sometimes it helps to step back and see the direction things are headed and then sometimes you want to forecast the direction as opposed to just know what happened lately.

Liron Segev: I have a YouTube channel, I am a regular YouTuber like a lot of people trying to make it, trying to find a little corner of YouTube. Where do we begin?

Greg Jarboe: Well, you have to begin with great video, so I don't want to understate that. But over the years there are elements of YouTube's algorithm that have changed and we generally focus on those because that's what we do. But there are elements that have remained the same.

Now I uploaded my first video to YouTube in August of 2006 and I thought I was late to the dance because YouTube had been around for a whole year and I was finally getting to it. But over all that period of time, one of the constants in the YouTube's algorithm has been relevance. So if you've made great video, terrific. Then when it comes time to write your title, write your description, select your tags, they need to be as relevant as possible. And that part, it hasn't gone out of fashion. There are people who would skip over it because, oh yeah, yeah, yeah. But that's the same, the answer is, yeah, it's one of the few things that hasn't changed. So focus there.

Liron Segev: Making good content. That is what people are there for. We want to be entertained, we want to be educated, we want to do it in a way that we can relate to. And if you are not producing that kind of stuff, doesn't matter how awesome your thumbnail is. We're just simply not interested.

Greg Jarboe: Bingo. So, again, it's easy to skip over the basics and go to the, how can you fake them out? Well, the answer is it's getting harder to fake them out and good content is number one and relevant titles, descriptions and tags is number two.

Liron Segev: All right, so assuming for the sake of this discussion, we understand this. People have been onto the vidIQ YouTube channel. They have read your blog posts, they have read our blog posts.. Now they understand they're going to get the basics. They've made a commitment to really, really get in there. But then YouTube goes and says, okay, we're going to change the game a little bit. Have you noticed some big changes happening recently?

Greg Jarboe: Oh sure. Huge all the time. And again, there is a whole army of people who chase the latest algorithm change and God bless them and good luck. That way madness lies. So one of the things that hasn't changed and won't change is relevance, and let me go back to the basics. If YouTube starts serving up irrelevant content, when you do a YouTube search, it will stop being the world's second most popular search engine.

Liron Segev: Absolutely.

Greg Jarboe: So yeah, they have fiddled with that over time, there were occasions when they threw in ringers because they thought people were finding content that was just too relevant. And so they would throw stuff in and oh, by the way, people stopped paying attention to their suggested videos. Okay. So by force of human behavior, YouTube can't deviate very far from serving up relevant content.

Now the big mistake rookies make is they go off and they will use a Google keyword tool to come up with the search terms to use in YouTube and oh no, no, no, no, don't go there. Don't go there. In fact, if you want to just see this for yourself, go to Google trends and the default result for any keyword that you put in there is going to be what they call web search, which is a search on Google. But guess what? There's a tab that you can go and look for YouTube search and you will often find that the term that seems to be trending in Google doesn't exist at all on YouTube. So, again, recognize that it's a different set of users who know they are on a video sharing site. And so the terms that they're looking for are frequently similar but different.

Liron Segev: Oh, I love that. And I can tell you from personal experience, literally yesterday I had someone telling me that they're about to launch this new channel. They have done all their research, they've listened to all the advice, was all to do with RVing and kind of how to buy your first RV. And I said to her, "Well is there a marketplace for this? Are people interested in this topic?" And she says, "Yes. I went to Google trends and its cooking." And I did the exact same thing you just said. I put in the same search terms and instead of saying web search, I said YouTube and the results were flat. Now had she just simply gone ahead and done that, she would've essentially had a channel that might be amazing, but the search volume is not there. People don't care for that kind of topic on YouTube. Is there an overlap between Google searches and YouTube searches? We've seen those snippets coming up now in search, we've seen video coming up in search. Are the two worlds going to collide at any point?

Greg Jarboe: Oh they do on occasion, yeah. And if you are let's say a type A personality that wants to overachieve, you go look for the overlapping terms that are both popular on Google as well as YouTube and you hope to get that incremental hit from Google search results on top of the YouTube search results. I think it's a two bank shot. Okay. All right. But guess what I can do just fine. Thank you very much, focusing on YouTube search terms instead of trying to contort myself into thinking, the only thing that counts is Google. And the answer is turning up in Google's nice that I'm not going to sneeze on that, but turning up in YouTube is nice and you have a lot more elbow room to work with.

Liron Segev: Maybe experiment on the other occasion, maybe even write a blog post and have all these things kind of intertwine, but it shouldn't be your pass or fail metric.

Greg Jarboe: Right.

Liron Segev: Got you. I am looking at my YouTube trending. I am doing my research. What's my next step?

Greg Jarboe: Well then you have to choose but choose wisely is, I think the movie line goes. In the early days, I would take advantage of every last character in the title, in the description. The tags are always a sort of guesswork as to how many tags YouTube wanted. But in the title that you had up to 100 characters. And so I used to advise people, if you can come up with a title that is 99 characters long, then you haven't left anything on the table. Because who knows, maybe you'll get found for the fifth search term that you've stuffed into that title. Well, it turns out stuffing is stuffing and YouTube over the years has not rewarded that behavior. And so what may have been good advice, oh, 5, 10 years ago is now bad advice today. The right number, according to the research that I write about in a recent post, in Search Engine Journal, is about half of that.

So if you've got up to 100 characters, that's the max. If you can find a headline that's oh 47, 48 characters long, that's the sweet spot. So you don't have to take advantage of every last word. But what that does mean, this is the implication, and it goes back to my question about you must choose but choose wisely. Okay, if I'm going to leave the fourth and fifth search term out of my title, then excuse me, what were my top two or three? And I can't be all things to all people and apparently I'm not even rewarded for trying to be five things to all people. So, what are the most important ones? And that's a question that only you and your marketing plan can determine. What are the key things that ought to be in your title?

Liron Segev: So I mean, again, YouTube is making us focused. The old days of your channel can do cooking today, vlogging tomorrow, text the next day, motoring the next day. Those days seem to be, the variety days seem to be a little bit behind us. Now it's all about focus, focus, focus, and really kind of use that first punch, that first 50 characters to get it out there.

Greg Jarboe: Exactly. Exactly. And even people who are in the news business understand this because in the old days they wanted variety and now people like news now basically are spinning off new channels that focus just on political news, for example.

Liron Segev: Yes. What about description?

Greg Jarboe: Oh, I was one of the first and again, believe it or not, I've got a book called YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day, that was published in 2009. Do not read it. Do not buy my book.

Liron Segev: That's a first.

Greg Jarboe: It is so out of date. Its 10 years out of date. Think about that for a second.

Liron Segev: Yeah, that's true.

Greg Jarboe: But back then I was the first to crack the code to say, "Oh wow, you could have up to 5,000 characters in your description. Thank you, YouTube. That's about 800 plus words, depending on how long your average word is." And so again, back in the old days, I would recommend that, write as much as you can. And if you're a writer, God bless you. That makes you stand out from the crowd of just people who can shoot video and don't know how to write. Well, it turns out that was then, this is now the new best practice is again something underneath about half of what you could stuff into the description.

So if you can get 300 to 350 words into your description, you've done a good job. You've gone beyond the two or three sentences that most videos have, but you haven't filled it into the brim with words may not have been quite as a useful. So a little under half, 300 to 350 words in your description. And again, that means you're going to have to choose, what do I put in that it's going to be more than a sentence or two, but it's not 800 words anymore and be selective, tell the most important element of your story.

Liron Segev: And do we still use keywords in our description?

Greg Jarboe: I think so, but I would use sparingly. I tend to try to write with synonyms as often as possible because it's good for humans, but it also turns out to be remarkably good for algorithms as well as they've gotten more mature over the years. They understand what synonyms are and they make the arbitrary and whimsical and capricious decision that synonyms are probably good writing, so guess what? It turns out if you use good writing, then you are doing what the algorithm is trying to guess at that you should be doing.

Liron Segev: Okay. Now the mixed pot is the one that's used to be insanely important. Now it doesn't seem to be, let's talk about video tags.

Greg Jarboe: Yeah. Actually, I think it's still insanely important. I think it always was, believe it or not, in the early days of YouTube you can actually see the tags that somebody was using. It was right there underneath the description and then YouTube decided, oh no, no, we can't let that happen. And so the tags became invisible, but just because they became invisible, I don't think that means that they became less important. It just meant that they became, I don't know, I got to guess. And now there's tools like the one that vidIQ makes that let you see the tags again. Oh, by the way, now they may have always been important, but now you can see them again. So I think tags are key. There are times where if I'm going to put a keyword in my description, boy, I'm going to put it in my tags.

If I've got a synonym in my title, you better believe I'm going to get that in my tags. But, here's the trick. Here's the new trick. I generally take about 80% of the space that I devote to tags. And you can have anywhere these days of anywhere between 30 and 40 tags. I try to set aside 80% of them that are unique to this video. And I'd try to take the last 20% and say, okay, those are the tags that I want to use on every video on my channel. I want people who finish watching one of my videos to realize, oh by the way, I have other videos and yes I got to get this video found. So I'm going to do that with 80% of the tags, but I want to take the last 20%.

Liron Segev: And again, at the end of the day, YouTube is a search engine. It wants to marry those relationships. You want to force those relationships between your videos and a tag is a great place to do that. I always put it in my channel name, I put in my name. That's my constant between all my videos, everything else becomes unique to that particular video. Giving YouTube the metadata that it needs to kind of understand what this particular content about. But I want to force those relationships between my videos. Let YouTube suggest the next one for me.

Greg Jarboe: And again, at one point in time I would recommend, oh, only pick 12 tags. And at one point in time that seemed to be the right number. The right number is now about three times that number. So does that mean tags got more important? No I think what YouTube recognizes is that only a small number of videos are going to be found as the number one result in search. More videos will get watched if the recommended suggested videos are also relevant and people then stayed longer. Sessions on YouTube are now somewhere north of 40 minutes. That's average. And as a result, I'm not making 40 minute videos. I don't know about you.

Liron Segev: Definitely not.

Greg Jarboe: But what that does mean is that people in that session are not only watching my video, they're probably watching four or five or six other videos and hopefully a couple of those are also mine.

Liron Segev: And one of the things that really is intriguing for me is that YouTube has repeatedly said that tags don't have as much importance as they used to, right? But when I look at the new Studio beta, the one that's currently is being rolled at, guess what they brought across, tags. So if it's no longer relevant in the new upload flow that we've got access to, you upload your video and you put your title or your description and on the very next screen is ask you to put in tags. So if it's not that important, why are you bringing it across to a brand new platform?

Greg Jarboe: Yeah, I think it's actually unfortunately more fundamental than even that, it comes down to when you do a search in Google, Google can look at tons of texts and try to pick up signals about what is quality content. When you look at video, YouTube has very few signals that they can work with and most of those signals are in the metadata. So I think tags are one of those things that will continue to be important up until the day where YouTube is transcribing what is said on the video. And also interpreting accurately the visuals on the video so that they aren't faked out. And then maybe tags become less important. But we're not there yet.

Liron Segev: We get it, I mean the transcription is really getting much, much better. It's the AI is learning all the time. We already know about Cloud Vision, where you can upload your thumbnails that you can see what Google thinks of what things you're representing. So it just these tools are just becoming stronger and stronger and stronger, but I'm kind of getting the distinct impression that don't forget your basics, feed the beast, feed the metadata, at the end of the day it's still that search engine. I'm going to repeat that a bazillion times, but that's what it is. It's the world's second largest search engine.

Greg Jarboe: I totally agree.

Liron Segev: All right, let's move a little bit forward and now the one thing that you mentioned and I want to kind of go into that, all clicks are not created equal. Let's unpack that. I Love that.

Greg Jarboe: This has been an ongoing sea change that started way back in 2012 and that was when YouTube decided to dump the view as the key element in its algorithm and replace it with watch time. And so what YouTube is now paying attention to, and by the way, this is a huge difference between the YouTube algorithm and the Google Algorithm, which can't do this. But what YouTube is looking at is how long are you watching the video. Now they're actually going beyond how long you watched the video. They're also, how long are you staying in a session? Or is this the first video that you watch in a series of six. Views beyond your video are also factored in. Percentage that someone watches is factored in, et cetera, et cetera. And so all of a sudden you have a very robust algorithm that basically says, if I start watching this video and about 10 seconds in, I gag and go, "Oh, give me a break. This is corporate propaganda, barf. I'm out of here."

Oh, by the way, without even writing a comment underneath that video, which when people leave a video, they don't take the time to comment as much. They just leave. And YouTube knows that you just gave that video a thumbs down. You just spewed, "Do not waste my time with this kind of garbage, again." So YouTube is interpreting the viewer intent. Now if while I'm watching, I also do some nifty things like share the video after I watched it or I comment on it. Or even heaven forbid, give it a thumbs up.

Liron Segev: Ooh.

Greg Jarboe: I know. I know, old school really old. Although really old schools, we go back to the five star system, but sort of old school. But if you interact with that video in a variety of ways, then those are a bonus brownie points. But the point is that YouTube is now looking for long clicks, not short clicks. And that thing gets back to, "Boy, your content better be good. It better be compelling. You better know how to tell a story or I'm out of here in 10 seconds."

Liron Segev: Cool. Can I tell you, I absolutely concur with that. I spent a couple of days with some of the world's largest YouTubers and amazing to me how most of them, by their own admission say they don't know this stuff. You know what they know? How to tell a good story. And that's all they focus on. It's just making it better and better for the viewer. And they get rewarded for that.

Greg Jarboe: Oh, and you're hanging out with the good people then because I hang out with a different crowd. I hang out with, oh, how do I say this? Agency types who know how to create a TV commercial in 15 seconds and think that's all you need to do on YouTube. Right? The answers. "Oh, man." So, I have to get them to unlearn what they learned in a different medium to take advantage of this new one. Well, maybe this is the part of the checkered background that I didn't delve into that I should reveal now. Once upon a time, way, way back, I was a journalist. Oh my God. I was an editor of a newspaper. I know. Print media. It's an old concept. Look it up in Wikipedia.

Liron Segev: I've heard of it.

Greg Jarboe: You'll find a listing for newspapers. But one of the things we learned really quickly is you don't sell many newspapers today with yesterday's news.

Liron Segev: Yeah. Yes.

Greg Jarboe: So maybe I got the right training and the wrong place, but I understood that this has got to be state of the art. You can't rest on last month's trend.

Liron Segev: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So, let's get back to 2019 for a second.

Greg Jarboe: Oh yes. Oh.

Liron Segev: Moving along. All right, so as we kind of going down our list, we know about content, we understand we've got to make good thumbnails, titles, descriptions, and tags. We now understand that content is key and not all clicks are created equal, still love it. Not all clicks are created equal. We want to get that watch time. We want to get people to really stay on and perhaps watch another one of our videos. We're using end screens, we're using cars and we kind of call to action. Getting people to stay longer. Are we not going to win this? Are we going to get a million subscribers by tomorrow morning?

Greg Jarboe: Maybe. Possibly. Some people do. Yeah. So it helps, how many subscribers do you have? Because they're going to be notified that you've got some new content out. And if you've got, let's say PewDiePie numbers, then guess what? Every new video he puts up gets about a million views in the first day. So yeah, yeah, it happens. It happens. But for most of us mere mortals, you were going to have to work at that. But it's worth knowing that the YouTube algorithm is now looking at your channel and trying to figure out how many subscribers and total views your channel has. And that's part of the algorithm that sort of determines, you've got a track record, you are worse boosting in the rankings because you've demonstrated in the past that you could do this.

So that matters. Another thing that matters, and this is one that snuck up on me, is the length of videos. I have always argued that longer was stronger. But a lot of people thought that was just strange in an era where a long video meant two to three minutes. But again, we've seen new data that says that the sweet spot for a video is somewhere in the 11 to 16 minute range. And that's a lot longer than most of the content that most of us are making. And again, a place to the watch time algorithm, but if you know how to tell a story, why cut it off at four minutes or five minutes just because that happens to be the length of the normal, let's say popular music video? Guess what? Michelle Phan is the one who pushed to get the 10 minute limit on YouTube expanded to 15 minutes because she couldn't finish putting on her makeup in 10 minutes.

And guess what? People were watching all 15 minutes. So if you've got content that is compelling and useful and interesting and takes you on a roller coaster ride, wow. Boy does the YouTube Algorithm rewards you. And again, incrementally you're going to be building your total views as well as your subscribers and you're going to get all the other magic benefits that come with the metadata optimization.

Liron Segev: Oh, absolutely. Each channel is different. So know your own audience and know that the audience is critical. But I have a feeling you don't agree with that?

Greg Jarboe: I don't.

Liron Segev: Oh, well, okay. I'm very open to new ideas. Hit me.

Greg Jarboe: You heard my tisk tisk.

Liron Segev: I did. I did.

Greg Jarboe: Okay, well here's the deal. If you're looking at your analytics, you're trying to drive forward looking through the rear view mirror because all it will show you is what you've done up to now. And frankly, what most people have done up to now has been pretty cautious. And I find very few people who are really, really experimenting by pushing the envelope and let's test something we haven't done before. Then if you see that, well that bombed, we'll never do that one again. Okay, fair enough. But again, I spend a huge amount of time struggling to get people to stop making 15 second long videos because that's what we've always done.

And what I have to do as a sort of a tactic to get their attention is, I'll take them to influencers. And I said, here's an influencer that you could sponsor if you want to. Let's look at the average length of their video. Oh my God, it's eight minutes long. And oh look how many views and shares and likes they got versus your 15 second long video. And so I have to hit them on the side of the head with other people's videos to get them to think, "Oh hmm, you're right. We haven't been doing those kinds of videos."

Liron Segev: Instantly jumps to mind is the how-to channels. So and I use myself as an example. I have a how to tick channels, how to fix your router, how to get better internet speed. People, they want the information, they're hungry for the information that they wanted in and out. If you start telling long stories, either I'm a bad storyteller, which are 100% possible, absolutely, or people just want to know, how do I fix my toilet? How do I unblock that drain? They just want the information. They don't care about the other stuff around it. What do you think?

Greg Jarboe: Well, it's almost, almost right, but here's how I would frame it. You don't want to tell people how to fix half of their toilet and then come back next week and we'll fix the second half of your toilet.

Liron Segev: I agree.

Greg Jarboe: In other words, believe or not, you are trying to tell a story is just the format is such that here's the problem, here are the parts that you're going to need to get ahead of time. Here's the right order to put those parts together. Here's the way to test that your solution is working. In other words, you still want to go through a sequence.

Liron Segev: Right. Of course.

Greg Jarboe: And it may not be anecdotal, it may not be funny, although boy, it really helps if your personality helps make that process an enjoyable journey. But nevertheless, people still want to, "Get me to the conclusion." And so it is a form of storytelling. It's just not an entertainment based form. It's more logic based form. But guess what? If you want to find it, it's in a book written by Aristotle called Rhetoric and these storytelling methods and there are more than one of them, have been around for a couple 1000 years and they still work.

Liron Segev: Adapt, improvise, overcome.

Greg Jarboe: Bingo.

Liron Segev: Okay, fair enough.

Greg Jarboe: Actually I think he had a five part outline which is get their attention, state the problem, state the solution, explain the benefits of the solution and then I'll talk about next steps but, but yes, yes, yes. There are formulas for all of this.

Liron Segev: As we kind of wrapping up and we’ve spoken about a lot of really deep insight which is going to give us lots of food for thoughts. I know for myself I've made notes and for all of you listening out there, don't worry. I've got you covered. Everything will be in the show notes so all these links will be there as well.

Now I want to move on to the equation that I have been wrestling with, which is the value of embedding a video versus not embedding a video. Here's what I mean by that for those who don't know, I run a technology blog. A lot of people have company websites, have personal blogs and I do an article about a particular set of technology that I happen to be speaking about on my YouTube channel and I always like to embed the video so that gives people the opportunity to either read or push play. We've been told a couple of different things that things on embedded videos don't count as much as videos that I've watched directly on YouTube. Have you got any kind of insights into that area?

Greg Jarboe: Yes, and the answer is, a view is a view, is a view, in fact, if it is a view from an embedded site, it may actually give you an extra boost because I think a YouTube figures out, "Wow, this video got embedded that used to be popular it's not so popular anymore. And if this person has got an embedded video pool, maybe we should get Brownie points to it." So, where your video can be embedded, please embed it. I've worked with again, more commercial clients but there's one that was a medical device supplier and they made portable ultrasound products and they were creating two versions of every video. One for their website, one for their YouTube channel and we cut the production costs in half by having just one video and they boosted their total video views by embedding the YouTube video and oh by the way, they passed their leading competitor in views after trailing them for years.

So it works, it works, it works. Do it. Now, here's the one caveat. There are exceptions and it comes to the YouTube player which you embed basically is built around getting people to watch more YouTube videos. And there are times when I want to embed a video on a website and I don't want the call to action to be to watch my next video. I want it to be, can you buy my product please? That's why it's on the website and I don't want to send you back to YouTube for those occasions. And they are real and they are commercial. I then looked for a player that I can embed the YouTube video into that gives me those extra calls to action on my website as opposed to other things I could do on YouTube.

Liron Segev: Oh, so you don't use the native YouTube sharing player?

Greg Jarboe: I embed the native YouTube sharing player inside a sort of a wrapper. But the rapper basically gives me the overlay that says, "If you want to buy now, click here."

Liron Segev: Click here. Okay. It's an extra layer on top of that, that you have much more granular control over it.

Greg Jarboe: Yeah. And there are several people who make those kinds of players. So you can play around them yourself. But if you go to the GoPro site and you look at the videos that they've got there, they all look like YouTube videos on the GoPro website. And they are. But if you look at the players that they're embedded in, they are custom players that GoPro has created that do what I just described.

Liron Segev: Love that. I had no idea that even existed. This is why I love doing these episodes. You just learn things all the time. Great. As we kind of wrapping up, if people want to find you, they want to get more of this amazing goodness, where can they do that? What's the best platform to engage? Go for it, hit us up.

Greg Jarboe: Well, I hide in a lot of different places. So among them places that you may find me popping up from now and then is Search Engine Journal. I write for them. You will increasingly find me writing for the vidIQ blog, so I think I've only written a couple posts so far, but more to come. You can find my website, seo-pr.com. You can find me on LinkedIn by looking for Greg Jarboe. You can find my Twitter account which is @gregjarboe.

Thank you very much again for your time. This was delightful and really inspiring for us to look at things slightly different. Understanding that there is an algorithm change. Yes we should be focused on it to such a degree, but always remember it's your content that comes first and everything else is just the how-to. So really appreciate your time and your insights.

Greg Jarboe: Thank you Liron. Thank you for having me on.

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