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13 Key Elements Of Successful YouTube Videos

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13 Key Elements Of Successful YouTube Videos

YouTube is great for marketing, a fact that is supported by a ton of mind-blowing usage statistics.

These are some that really stand out:

  • 500 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • YouTube is the second most popular social networking site, with more than 2 billion monthly users. That’s one-third of the internet!
  • Viewers are 4x more likely to use YouTube vs. another platform to discover information about a brand, product, or service – meaning that there is a ready audience for your content.
  • Millennials also spend a lot of their time on YouTube. Among millennials, YouTube reaches more of the 18-34 demographic than any TV network.

How can you make the most of the YouTube opportunity?

It starts with a great video. Check out these 13 key components of a successful YouTube video.

1. Branded Intro Footage

The importance of branding in marketing can never be overemphasized. Branding helps build loyalty.

Including branded intro footage helps your loyal viewers to immediately recognize your work so they’ll stick with you and keep watching.

Additionally, such branding is important for ensuring that your viewers remember the video, which is especially handy when they need to refer someone to it.

Even though they might forget the actual content and the name of the video, remembering your branded footage will help direct viewers to your channel.

2. An Attention-Grabbing Intro

Did you know that about 20% of people will leave after the first 10 seconds of your YouTube video?

What’s even worse is that they might give you a thumbs down.

So, what do you do?

It is all about the intro.

After including your branded intro footage, convince the viewer to keep watching. Clearly explain what they are about to see, and how that is of benefit to them.

If you’re showing them how to solve a problem, personalize it so that they feel that you have also been affected. This builds trust, and the feeling that the solution is valuable.

3. Keep Titles And Opening Credits Short

As mentioned above, our attention spans are incredibly short. Nothing is worse than an extensive beginning to a video that drives lost interest.

Even worse, that long opener will discourage binge-watching. Who wants to watch that same long opener over and over again?

Over half of YouTube viewers will watch the entire video when it’s under one minute in length.

Instead, strive for a ~5-second opener that is punchy and straight to the point.

4. Build Trending Topics Into Your Video Content

Using trending topics is a tried and true method for successful link building and can also be applied to your video content.

Think seasonal, newsworthy, local, unique, movies, gaming, music, or even surprising topics, etc. These are all great fodder for trending topics to bake into your videos.

Not sure where to start? Give YouTube Trending (country-specific) or Popular on YouTube (global) a try.

Google Trends and even Twitter Trends are also great resources to discover trending topics to tie into your video content.

5. Background Music

Should you include background music? After all, people are only interested in what you’re saying.

However, thanks to technology, we get bored. Fast.

There’s nothing more boring than a dull YouTube video.

Including background music not only grabs attention instantly but sets the mood for the viewing session, establishing an emotional connection.

In addition, music drives the pace of the video, while a great soundtrack only gives viewers one more reason to share the video.

However, be careful of two things:

  • That the music evokes the desired emotions and aura.
  • That you are legally allowed to use the music in your video.

6. Being Clearly Audible

Unfortunately, a great intro and nice background music can’t help if you aren’t clearly audible.

Remember, the ultimate goal is for your audience to understand what you are putting across. If your video is just a pictorial illustration, then loud background music suffices.

On the other hand, if your video includes an oral presentation, make sure you can be heard above the background music.

7. Brevity

Well, maybe not that short. Still, that video has more than 11 million views.

With YouTube allowing users to search for videos based on duration, among other filters, we clearly can’t ignore the importance of video length in YouTube.

8. Customized Experiences

Tap into micro-moments. These are the times when people need to know, go, do, or buy something and turn to the closest device to help them achieve it.

Use data to give people what they want, when they want it.

This can take many forms. Consider establishing a connection between events on TV or the excitement around big moments in pop culture, politics, sports, tech, and more.

Another option is to leverage data to deliver personalized video content.

Google Trends, May 2021

To get started with this process:

  • Visit Google Trends to help validate the increasing demand or topic.
  • Learn what people are searching for and tailor your videos to fit into existing conversations. A keyword research tool can help you narrow in on the right keyword targets.
  • Next, this free Chrome plugin from vidIQ will provide you with valuable competitive data for current ads that are going viral, including tags, social shares, average watch time, velocity, and more.
  • Lastly, once the video is created, leverage YouTube Analytics to answer “who is actually watching” and “what they are truly interested in.”

9. A Call To Action

As mentioned earlier, YouTube viewers are short on time. After all, there is too much content to view in one day. They have jobs and lives (presumably).

Consequently, you need to be creative about how you include your call to action because your audience will increasingly disappear over the course of your video.

Engagement significantly drops off between two and three minutes. This means you should not place your CTA at the end, and that is particularly true for longer videos.

Instead, consider clickable annotations in the first few seconds of the video.

Bonus Tip: If you’re looking to grow your YouTube subscriber base, add the following parameter to your url: ?sub_confirmation=1.

Here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/user/jonleeclark?sub_confirmation=1. You’ll get a nice little popup prompting the user to subscribe.

Here's an example of adding the following parameter to your url.Screenshot taken by author, May 2021

10: Add End Screens To Promote Your Videos, Channel, Or Website

While end screens can only be added to the last 20 seconds of a video, these useful graphics can be used to link out to everything from a website URL, YouTube channel, video playlist (such as another video in a series), or prompt a watcher to subscribe.

When creating a video, make sure you leave room, as the video ends, to add your end screen.

Ahrefs Video End Card.How to Learn SEO Fast and Effectively, Ahrefs, May 2021

11. Design Video Thumbnails YouTube Users Want To Click

Of all the items in this list, thumbnails have the greatest potential to make or break your YouTube success.

And the reason is simple.

Suggested videos tend to be the leading source of organic traffic on YouTube. In a sense, YouTube acts as an “endorser” of your content by suggesting it as something a watcher might also enjoy.

Thumbnails that drive clicks are more likely to feed the algorithm resulting in more clicks and so on.

Here are three simple best practices to keep in mind:

Don’t trick the user.

Ensure the thumbnail is relevant and delivers on the video’s title. If not, you risk having a lower watch time which will negatively impact the algorithm – the opposite of what we want.

Design thumbnails for smaller screens.

YouTube recommends 1280 x 720; however, most video consumption happens on a smaller screen.

Make sure your image will still stand out by playing with color saturation, cropping to a smaller area, or playing with the edges of the image.

Bonus Tip: Can’t decide on a thumbnail? Consider testing a handful of thumbnail options with a simple Adwords test. A small investment of $10-20/day will provide some insight into which thumbnail is generating the strongest VTR (view-through-rate).

Keep a consistent style, look, and feel.

I realize this is open-ended but some considerations for consistency include logo, common colors, shapes, consistent face, font, etc.

Over time, this consistency will increase video recognition during skimming; and, if they enjoy your content, they’ll be more likely to click. The folks over at Keywordtool.io do this well.

Consistent Youtube Brand.How to Find YouTube Trends (Tips to Grow Your Channel), Keyword Tool, May 2021

12: Build A “Guest Slot” For Other YouTubers

Perhaps the most common example of a “guest slot” is an interview.

But no matter how your structure it, collaborating with creators who already have an audience is a great way to build your own as it provides exposure to an audience that may otherwise never hear of you.

Look for creators that are already in your niche or who service an audience with similar interests. Social Blade is a tool that can help you find channels serving similar demographics and size of channel.

Be sure to feature your guest in a positive light and prominently so they’ll be more likely to cross-promote the video.

13. Give The Audience A Chance To Participate

It might seem odd if you’re not streaming live, but soliciting your audience to participate has its advantages.

For example, asking your viewers questions directly gives you opportunities to generate and provide responses to comments – further fueling the engagement algorithm.

Viewer feedback can also provide ideas for future content and the opportunities to build content around responses through ‘fan clips’ or idea shoutouts.

The Way Forward

To improve performance on YouTube, driving more traffic to your site and more revenue for your business, apply these best practices in your video creation process.

These tried and tested YouTube video elements are sure to contribute to your own video marketing success!

More Resources:


Featured Image: Alina Rosanova/Shutterstock

All screenshots taken by author, May 2021




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Why Now’s The Time To Adopt Schema Markup

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Why Now's The Time To Adopt Schema Markup

There is no better time for organizations to prioritize Schema Markup.

Why is that so, you might ask?

First of all, Schema Markup (aka structured data) is not new.

Google has been awarding sites that implement structured data with rich results. If you haven’t taken advantage of rich results in search, it’s time to gain a higher click-through rate from these visual features in search.

Secondly, now that search is primarily driven by AI, helping search engines understand your content is more important than ever.

Schema Markup allows your organization to clearly articulate what your content means and how it relates to other things on your website.

The final reason to adopt Schema Markup is that, when done correctly, you can build a content knowledge graph, which is a critical enabler in the age of generative AI. Let’s dig in.

Schema Markup For Rich Results

Schema.org has been around since 2011. Back then, Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex worked together to create the standardized Schema.org vocabulary to enable website owners to translate their content to be understood by search engines.

Since then, Google has incentivized websites to implement Schema Markup by awarding rich results to websites with certain types of markup and eligible content.

Websites that achieve these rich results tend to see higher click-through rates from the search engine results page.

In fact, Schema Markup is one of the most well-documented SEO tactics that Google tells you to do. With so many things in SEO that are backward-engineered, this one is straightforward and highly recommended.

You might have delayed implementing Schema Markup due to the lack of applicable rich results for your website. That might have been true at one point, but I’ve been doing Schema Markup since 2013, and the number of rich results available is growing.

Even though Google deprecated how-to rich results and changed the eligibility of FAQ rich results in August 2023, it introduced six new rich results in the months following – the most new rich results introduced in a year!

These rich results include vehicle listing, course info, profile page, discussion forum, organization, vacation rental, and product variants.

There are now 35 rich results that you can use to stand out in search, and they apply to a wide range of industries such as healthcare, finance, and tech.

Here are some widely applicable rich results you should consider utilizing:

  • Breadcrumb.
  • Product.
  • Reviews.
  • JobPosting.
  • Video.
  • Profile Page.
  • Organization.

With so many opportunities to take control of how you appear in search, it’s surprising that more websites haven’t adopted it.

A statistic from Web Data Commons’ October 2023 Extractions Report showed that only 50% of pages had structured data.

Of the pages with JSON-LD markup, these were the top types of entities found.

  • http://schema.org/ListItem (2,341,592,788 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/ImageObject (1,429,942,067 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/Organization (907,701,098 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/BreadcrumbList (817,464,472 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/WebSite (712,198,821 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/WebPage (691,208,528 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/Offer (623,956,111 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/SearchAction (614,892,152 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/Person (582,460,344 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/EntryPoint (502,883,892 Entities)

(Source: October 2023 Web Data Commons Report)

Most of the types on the list are related to the rich results mentioned above.

For example, ListItem and BreadcrumbList are required for the Breadcrumb Rich Result, SearchAction is required for Sitelink Search Box, and Offer is required for the Product Rich Result.

This tells us that most websites are using Schema Markup for rich results.

Even though these Schema.org types can help your site achieve rich results and stand out in search, they don’t necessarily tell search engines what each page is about in detail and help your site be more semantic.

Help AI Search Engines Understand Your Content

Have you ever seen your competitor’s sites using specific Schema.org Types that are not found in Google’s structured data documentation (i.e. MedicalClinic, IndividualPhysician, Service, etc)?

The Schema.org vocabulary has over 800 types and properties to help websites explain what the page is about. However, Google’s structured data features only require a small subset of these properties for websites to be eligible for a rich result.

Many websites that solely implement Schema Markup to get rich results tend to be less descriptive with their Schema Markup.

AI search engines now look at the meaning and intent behind your content to provide users with more relevant search results.

Therefore, organizations that want to stay ahead should use more specific Schema.org types and leverage appropriate properties to help search engines better understand and contextualize their content. You can be descriptive with your content while still achieving rich results.

For example, each type (e.g. Article, Person, etc.) in the Schema.org vocabulary has 40 or more properties to describe the entity.

The properties are there to help you fully describe what the page is about and how it relates to other things on your website and the web. In essence, it’s asking you to describe the entity or topic of the page semantically.

The word ‘semantic’ is about understanding the meaning of language.

Note that the word “understanding” is part of the definition. Funny enough, in October 2023, John Mueller at Google released a Search Update video. In this six-minute video, he leads with an update on Schema Markup.

For the first time, Mueller described Schema Markup as “a code you can add to your web pages, which search engines can use to better understand the content. ”

While Mueller has historically spoken a lot about Schema Markup, he typically talked about it in the context of rich result eligibility. So, why the change?

This shift in thinking about Schema Markup for enhanced search engine understanding makes sense. With AI’s growing role and influence in search, we need to make it easy for search engines to consume and understand the content.

Take Control Of AI By Shaping Your Data With Schema Markup

Now, if being understood and standing out in search is not a good enough reason to get started, then doing it to help your enterprise take control of your content and prepare it for artificial intelligence is.

In February 2024, Gartner published a report on “30 Emerging Technologies That Will Guide Your Business Decisions,”  highlighting generative AI and knowledge graphs as critical emerging technologies companies should invest in within the next 0-1 years.

Knowledge graphs are collections of relationships between entities defined using a standardized vocabulary that enables new knowledge to be gained by way of inferencing.

Good news! When you implement Schema Markup to define and connect the entities on your site, you are creating a content knowledge graph for your organization.

Thus, your organization gains a critical enabler for generative AI adoption while reaping its SEO benefits.

Learn more about building content knowledge graphs in my article, Extending Your Schema Markup From Rich Results to Knowledge Graphs.

We can also look at other experts in the knowledge graph field to understand the urgency of implementing Schema Markup.

In his LinkedIn post, Tony Seale, Knowledge Graph Architect at UBS in the UK, said,

“AI does not need to happen to you; organizations can shape AI by shaping their data.

It is a choice: We can allow all data to be absorbed into huge ‘data gravity wells’ or we can create a network of networks, each of us connecting and consolidating our data.”

The “networks of networks” Seale refers to is the concept of knowledge graphs – the same knowledge graph that can be built from your web data using semantic Schema Markup.”

The AI revolution has only just begun, and there is no better time than now to shape your data, starting with your web content through the implementation of Schema Markup.

Use Schema Markup As The Catalyst For AI

In today’s digital landscape, organizations must invest in new technology to keep pace with the evolution of AI and search.

Whether your goal is to stand out on the SERP or ensure your content is understood as intended by Google and other search engines, the time to implement Schema Markup is now.

With Schema Markup, SEO pros can become heroes, enabling generative AI adoption through content knowledge graphs while delivering tangible benefits, such as increased click-through rates and improved search visibility.

More resources: 


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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


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