My First Year on YouTube

Exactly one year ago I started my YouTube channel. It was something I wanted to do for a long time, but only got around to last year. In this post I will reflect on my first year on YouTube. I'll share my experiences with starting and growing a YouTube channel. I'll also go over the things I've learned throughout the year and I'll give some advice for others.

About my channel

Lets start with some background information on my channel. I have a passion for teaching people. At school I was always eager to give presentations about topics where I knew a lot about. I love to learn about new technologies and then spread my knowledge back to others. In fact it was this passion that drove me to create my own blog and write in-depth articles about some of my projects.

I've been blogging for a couple of years but I noticed something: I watch way more video's than that I read blog posts. Sometimes a video can be so much clearer compared to text.

So in the beginning of 2016 I finally decided to start my own YouTube channel. I would make video tutorials on whatever topics I'm interested in.

Equipment: what I use

You might be wondering what equipment I use to make these videos. So here is the list of hardware and software that I currently use to make my video's:

  • MacBook Pro or my Hackintosh
  • Auna MIC-900 USB microphone (with pop filter)
  • ScreenFlow for recording my screen and basic editing
  • Google Drive to create thumbnails and introduction presentations
  • Trello for planning & keeping track of progress
  • OneNote to write outlines
  • Keynote (to create my intro)
  • BackBlaze B2 (to backup my projects)

That list might need some clarification. Last month I purchased a USB microphone from Auna to increase the audio quality in my videos. Before that I used a microphone that was at least 10 years old! It was a mic that my grandfather used to make home videos. It wasn't a USB microphone and it could start acting up at random moments during my recordings. And before that microphone I used the built-in microphone of my MacBook. Not bad, but nothing compared to my new mic.

My use of Google Drive might also raise some questions. I use it to create a small presentation that I show in the beginning of each video. It's usually an introduction or summary of what is about to come. The first slide is also used as a thumbnail for the video. I try to keep the presentation and the thumbnail as simple as possible. No fancy animations that can distract the viewer and using as few words as possible.

After I created my first three video's I wanted to create an intro for all my video's. Something recurring that people would recognize and associate with my YouTube brand. The intro had to be short and animated but I have no experience with tools like After Effects. But then I discovered that Keynote can export presentations to a MP4 file. It exports all animations and you can even specify the resolution. So I whipped up a tiny presentation, used some Magic Moves and exported it as a movie. I then searched for a nice music track to put under it. You can get rights-free music on many websites but I decided to use YouTube's Audio Library. I picked a song that I liked and there was my intro!

And finally I use BackBlaze B2 to backup all my finished videos. This includes the ScreenFlow project, as well as the exported video, preparations I have made and the thumbnail design. B2 is an excellent place to store your backups because it's very cheap.

Keeping things on track with Trello

A lot of work goes into each video. I use Trello to keep track of what I need to do. It's a very visual way to see how far along I am on certain videos. I can quickly glance my Trello board and see how many videos I'm working on, how many are finished and waiting to be published.

The Trello board that I use to keep track of progress

I use 5 lists: the first one is for keeping track of all my idea's. All the idea's go to this list, without judging. Crazy idea's, stuff I will probably never do, everything goes on here! It's basically the brainstorm list.

When I'm more serious about a certain idea, it gets moved to the "Considering" list. It's a bit of a weird name but when a video is in this column it means that I'm going to start working on it in the near future.

When I start working on a video it goes to the "In the pipeline" list and I attach a checklist to the card so that I don't forget to do certain things. This is useful for me because I don't finish videos straight away. Sometimes I record a few videos at once and edit them another day. I might also upload a bunch of them to YouTube (hidden), but wait to give them a proper description and endscreen. With the checklist I can keep track of what has been done and what's left to do.

Each card on Trello has this checklist to keep detailed track of progress

When a video is finished it moves to the "On hold" column. These videos are not yet available on YouTube, they are still marked as private. Sometimes I finish more than 1 video per day, but I don't publish them straight away. Instead I'm trying to release videos on a regular schedule. So if I'm ahead of schedule, this list fills up with videos that can be published.

Statistics

So what have I accomplished during my first year on YouTube? Here are some numbers:

  • 1 year on YouTube
  • 40 videos
  • 123.777 views
  • 371.584 total watched minutes (!)
  • 1.564 subscribers
  • 3 minutes average time watched

For me these numbers are fantastic. My YouTube channel is more popular than my website, which I have been running for many years now. It's a testimony that my feeling was right: people like to learn by watching videos. It's more engaging and a video can give people more information in a shorter period of time.

I'm most proud of the average view duration and the total watched minutes. Both these numbers are pretty high so that means that if people land on my video, they actually watch a large part of it. It also means that people find the video's relevant and don't go away after just seeing a couple of seconds of it.

Personally I think that these are the important metrics for my channel. They remind me that people actually watch my videos and learn from them. After all, that is the goal of my channel. The goal is not to get the most views or subscribers, but to actually teach people new things.

What have I learned?

So far I've learned a lot about creating educational videos for YouTube. I'll sum them up here for you, but remember: I've only been on YouTube for a year so my advice might not be top notch.

Stop doubting, just start!

The first thing I learned was to stop doubting myself and just start making video's. I wanted to start a YouTube channel for a while now, but I was always afraid that people would not like my video's. I was doubting myself and thinking "What if people think I'm stupid?"

This kind of thinking is stupid and I realise that now. The best advice I can give anyone who is in the shame shoes as I was: just start. Starting a YouTube channel is easy and free: you've got nothing to lose. After your first few videos you'll quickly discover if people like or hate your content. In my case the responses were largely positive and I knew that I was doing something right.

Reduce distractions

People are easily distracted and you have limited time to grab their attention. My first few videos started with long slideshows where I talked about technicalities. Later on I switched that around and made the introduction shorter. So I don't use the introduction to talk about technicalities. Those details should come later in the video.

The human attention span is decreasing. So it's important that you capture people's interest as quickly as possible. Having a long and boring introduction would scare them away. I try to make my introductions as short as possible and I'm even thinking about removing my intro animation for that reason.

I also keep my slides and my screen simple and tidy. I prefer people listen to what I say than being focused on what is written on a slide. I also clean up my screen whenever I start recording. I will often hide my Dock and clean up my menu bar. It's almost like "forcing" people to look at what really matters and preventing them from getting distracted with something that is irrelevant like what's in your Dock or what's on your desktop.

Quality matters, or doesn't it?

A lot of big Youtubers say that video quality is not important when you are starting a channel. I agree with them, but I believe that videos should have a minimum quality level. Nobody likes to watch a tutorial video that is narrated by a unnatural sounding computer voice for instance.

In my case the audio quality is the most important aspect. For the first few video's I used the internal microphone of my MacBook. And while it's not bad, it's not great either. My voice sounded flat and the microphone picked up a lot of echo from the room. After a couple of months I found a more decent microphone that my granddad used in the past and even later I ordered a USB microphone.

Video quality on the other is less important for my videos. I started out with recording my screencasts in 720p quality with a weird aspect ratio. This added black bars around each video. After a couple of videos I changed the resolution to match the aspect ratio of the YouTube player (1280x720).

After a while I discovered that I could use HiDPI mode on my MacBook to record video's in 1440p. This essentially doubled the video quality. Since then, I uploaded all my video's in this quality but I haven't seen any benefits in doing so. People don't care much about the quality of my videos as long as they can see what I'm doing and follow my logic.

That doesn't mean that I won't improve quality in the future. I like to know that each video I upload is the best that I can do at that time. Moving from 720p to 1440p didn't give me more views. But I believe that people appreciate the extra quality even if they don't notice it right away.

The most important part of educational videos is not the video quality and to some extend it isn't the audio quality either. Instead it's the way you explain stuff. I try to explain things in a easy way and with real world examples. I'm convinced that is more important than anything else.

Gradually improve

Rome wasn't built in one day, so don't try to build the perfect channel in a day. As said before, I started with 720p recordings, a bad microphone and long introductions. But after a few videos that improved.

The thing to take away here is that you'll learn things by doing them. You can't start with the perfect video and the perfect channel. It takes a few videos to realise that you're doing something wrong.

Goals & Improvements for 2017

Every year I try to set new goals for my blog and I figured I should do the same for my YouTube channel. I thought about several goals. I could set the goal to double the amount of views but that is silly. View count doesn't tell you much.

The purpose of my YouTube channel is to teach people. To do that people should watch my videos completely. So the goal for this year is to increase the average percent viewed. If people watch longer, they'll likely also learn more. I don't have a concrete plan to accomplish this but I have a few idea's that I would like to try, so stay tuned for that ;)

Also: during 2016 I had a few months were I created no videos at all for my channel. So this year I want to create more videos on a steady schedule. At least a couple of videos each month. I also want to branch out and teach about more subjects. I have a couple of ideas of my own but suggestions from my viewers are also great!

I also want to buy some acoustic foam to put on my walls. This should hopefully reduce the echo effect in my recording room.

And finally I want to experiment with new ideas. For example: should I record and upload in 60fps instead of 30? Would it make a big difference for screen recordings? I'm also thinking about making the introduction of each video a bit more personal by pointing a camera at me instead of showing a static image.

Conclusion

My channel is far from perfect but that is fine. I'll keep improving the channel with each new video. It's a work in progress and as time goes by I will learn more and receive more feedback.

I would like to thank everyone who watched one of my video's and who has subscribed to my channel. I hope the videos are helping people out. Make some noise in the comments, let me know what you like about my videos and what you dislike. Give me suggestions, feedback and tips!

I'm very grateful for your support and I wish everyone a fantastic 2017!

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