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The Best Kind Of YouTube Ads For Content

December 21, 2021

So you want to promote your new stuff with YouTube ads? Good call. If you haven't heard by now, YouTube ads are among the most consistent in the digital marketing space, both in terms of how much they cost and how they drive results. 

But if you're not careful, you can end up wasting money much faster than finding new fans. That's because Google's ad platform is still frankly quite confusing to the typical person wanting to run YouTube ads. Plus, when your primary goal is to get meaningful eyes on your content, you need a slightly different approach. 

Why You See YouTube Ads And How People Get Paid For Them

If you frequent YouTube (and end up going down rabbit holes like the rest of us), you've probably noticed at least a few of the ad types. The most common one usually happens right before the video you'd like to watch. Sometimes you can skip it immediately, or sometimes you have to watch a complete 15 seconds. But there are also ads that pop up at the bottom of the video, during longer video breaks, on the side of the videos, in search results etc. 

Each of these ads ended up in front of you for a reason, and the people running the ads essentially "bid" for the opportunity to get in front of you. They do this using the Google Ads platform.

The people who own the content you're trying to watch actually make money from those ads, too. In fact, content creators make about 55% of the ad revenue generated on their videos. But how much money that actually is still varies quite a bit because some advertisers are paying more to get in front of certain channels.

For instance, if you're watching a financial guru on YouTube, that person is probably making more money from the ads than the average channel because the companies advertising to their audience (usually banks, wealth managers, and other big companies) are willing to pay more. This is usually because the value of a customer is much higher to a bank or wealth manager than say, somebody who is just trying to get email sign ups from music fans. They're also usually harder to snag. So the person making videos talking about cryptocurrency might be making $15 for every 1,000 people who see their video versus the person making sketch comedy videos, who may only be making $3-5 per 1,000 people because the content is shorter and the people watching those videos are less likely to be looking for financial products. 

So the next time you get upset about ads on videos you're watching, you can at least appreciate that the content creator is (probably) getting paid. (There is a caveat: some channels don't qualify for ad revenue, but that's a different article). You could also use YouTube Premium to avoid watching ads by paying a monthly fee ($11.99 in the U.S.). In that case, the content owner still gets some revenue from your subscription. You also get access to YouTube Music, if that's something you're into. 

Advertising Your Content Through YouTube Ads

Usually, content creators will think of using YouTube ads to promote their own content — often videos already on YouTube. This can be incredibly effective in driving eyes, but it's usually a much different use case than most people who advertise on YouTube. 

And that's really important to remember, because most digital advertising platforms, whether its Google or Facebook or Hulu or TikTok or just about any other ad platform, are geared towards helping companies sell stuff and collect emails, not geared towards helping content creators actually get their content seen and heard. (The Spotify ads platform is naturally the one with the options most geared towards getting people to listen to your music, but that's a niche example). 

So when you open up any of these platforms, there's no obvious choice for "use my music video to find more fans of my music" etc. But with a little understanding, we can choose the right methods for advertising your own content on YouTube.

In-Stream Ads vs. Search Results Ads

Of all the types of ads you really need to consider when starting with YouTube ads to promote your content, "in-stream" ads and search result ads are the two most important to consider. In-stream ads are the ones you see before a YouTube video plays. These can either be full videos that are skippable after 5 seconds, or 15-second videos that you can't skip. The 15-second option doesn't really apply to the typical content we're talking about here.

Search results ads are the kinds of ads you see when you scroll YouTube. They usually appear on the side of your YouTube page, but can also be at the top or other various locations on the platform. 

With both types of ads, all you really need is your YouTube video link, a few words, and some targeting decisions to get your ads going. In-stream ads also actually count towards a view on your video if a viewer watches enough of it before the video it's playing in front of.

But while it may seem counter-intuitive, you actually don't want to be spending most (or maybe any) of your budget on in-stream ads. And here's why.

Be Cautious With In-Stream Ads

When you choose to run a skippable in-stream ad, you'll usually rack up a lot of views on the video. You may even find yourself seeing what appears to be a really good "percentage watched" on the video, meaning people who watched the ad watched upwards of 50% of the video or more.

But the problem is these views are almost always incredibly low engagement. Sometimes they'll run just long enough to get a view. In many cases, people just let ads run without paying attention at all. So you might be thinking a lot of people are really digging your video and watching it all the way through. But the truth is, they might just not be paying attention at all.

This is how you end up seeing music videos with 250,000 views but only 500 likes and 20 comments. And at the end of the day, spending hundreds of dollars to get tens of thousands of meaningless views is really just a waste of money. If you don't have an audience already that watches your content organically, you're likely to skew a lot of your stats with these kinds of ads. 

So while they may be the cheapest to run, they also usually yield the least impactful results. That's not to say the people they're going to couldn't be fans of your content. In fact, in many cases they just might be. But you have to recognize that it's more difficult to convince somebody who was planning to watch a different video to engage with your video playing before it instead.

Using Search Results Ads

While search results ads on YouTube may not yield as many views for as little money, they're certainly more likely to yield engagement in the form of likes, comments, and channel subscribers. That's because when somebody clicks your ad that pops up in search results, they land on your channel page — opposed to seeing your video before something else they intended to watch. It's easier for people to engage on your video page, and the fact that they even clicked over to watch it in the first place means they're already more invested in what you have in store.

The drawback is that search results ads are both a little bit harder to find in terms of setting them up on Google Ads (remember, Google Ads wasn't made with 'content creators who want to advertise their content' as a priority) and they take a little more effort to create in general.

If you want to use search results ads only, you'll want to either choose to create a campaign with the "Product and brand consideration" goal or "Create a campaign without a goal's guidance." Then, you'll want to make sure you choose "Video" and on the next page look for "Networks." You click that dropdown menu and un-check all options except "YouTube search results." 

Yeah, it's kinda hidden. 

The next thing you need to do is make sure you create a compelling headline and text for your ad. Because remember, you're trying to get people to see the thumbnail and then click on the video. They haven't actually heard or seen any of your content yet, so you have to get them with just a still image and a few words. 

But if you're properly targeting the right audiences, you don't need to necessarily overthink it. You can be a little click-baity if you have to, by using something like "The craziest hip hop jazz fusion you've ever seen" (if the video is, you know, a hip hop jazz fusion performance and you're targeting people who might like that). Or you can just be straight up and say something like "For fans of [insert artists you may sound like here]." 

It's a little easier to come up with good headlines if you're advertising something like a Twitch compilation video or a product review video for your tech channel. Something like "Top 10 moments from Fortnite" or "Is this camera the best value of 2022?" has a natural clickability to it without coming across as too dramatic.

But in any case, just think about using the kinds of words that would get your potential fans to click while they're browsing YouTube. 

Using A Hybrid Approach

It's possible to use both in-stream and search results ads for a bit of a "one-two punch" if you're really concerned with getting some cheap eyes on your video. We'd probably caution against that mindset, but we also know plenty of trustworthy marketers who tend to try a combination of ad types and — who knows, you might just find the perfect fit for what you're offering. 

If you do choose to run a hybrid approach involving both ad types, just make sure they're two completely separate campaigns going to the same video. That way you can most easily review the results and shut off or adjust ads accordingly. 

In this case, we'd still recommend you not allocating more than 25% of your budget to an in-stream campaign and still targeting countries where your content actually applies. In other words, don't try to get a bunch of cheap eyes from India and some meaningful engagement from the United States. You want your variables to be as similar as possible when testing which ad type is truly effective. 

We'd also recommend alternating between these campaign types at first before running them simultaneously. While you can use Google Ads to dive deeper and see how many people engaged with your content from the ads, it's always going to be more reliable if you track the engagement on the video yourself. If you run both campaigns at the same time at first, it might be harder to tell where the likes, comments, and subscribers are coming from (though if you paid attention to the rest of this article, you've got a good guess!). 

The Most Important Thing

No matter what, it's still critical to have good quality content. You don't want to just throw a webcam up, press record, and then try to market it. While having more "organic" looking posts works for some platforms (like Facebook and TikTok), people know they're watching a YouTube ad and it pays to make sure your content looks and sounds professional. 

It's also really important to make sure your channel looks like it's put together. You need a few videos already on your channel before you start advertising any of them, if you can help it. Have a nice banner, a little info about your channel, and links to other places people can find you. You want people to land on your channel and feel like it's worth their time to engage. 

Lastly — when you do get comments on your videos, be sure to engage and reply. It's incredibly important when the numbers are manageable. And if you stay up with it, it's not hard, even when you're getting dozens of comments a day (which is great!). People want to know there's a creator on the other side of the keyboard. YouTube will start churning your video out to more people organically if there's good engagement and retention on the video, even if you use ads to get it there in the first place. 

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