After years of contemplating Youtube as a medium, I finally started my own channel about two weeks ago. To my knowledge, I’ve done it exactly right: I picked a niche, decided on a schedule and a flow, made a few videos on my own before posting anything to see if I could do it at all, and started scheduling my uploads.

(I’m not going to share the link to the channel here, because I don’t want to disturb the algorithm while it identifies my audience. The people who read this blog are probably not the people who would be interested in my Youtube channel, which is just rhythm backing tracks for guitar players to practice over.)

It’s been an interesting couple weeks, and I’ve learned a lot very quickly. I uploaded my first video nine days ago. My understanding is that you’re lucky to get ten views on your first video. My first video has 474 views.

At one point, the first video tapered off with fifty views or so. I wondered if I just picked a bad day to upload it, so I opted to try a different schedule going forward. I posted my second video only a few days later, and it got somewhat cannibalized by the first video. My second video has been up for six days, and currently has 169 views.

These numbers are very good! I’m pleased with them, I suppose. I think I’ve identified a good niche.

That all being said, after staring at the numbers for a week, I had a few observations that I thought I’d share, mostly out of my own interest:

  1. It’s so easy to develop an obsession with checking these numbers. An obsession. I think I check the numbers twenty times a day. This actually hampers enthusiasm, because instead of seeing the numbers go up by dozens every day, you see the numbers go up in increments of two or three, which is less encouraging.
  2. My first video has 16 likes, but got its first dislike this morning. It turns out that the dislike is not a useful metric for the creator. It tells you nothing about what that person disliked, but it does give you a reason to feel bad about yourself. 94.1% approval is great — a number I should be totally okay with — but all I really feel is the 5.9% disapproval.
  3. The other reason the dislike means nothing is because, for all I know, somebody clicked or tapped the wrong button. In the same timeframe, I got a new subscriber. For all I know, this person is also the person who gave my video the thumbs down, but they did it accidentally on the way to the Subscribe button. The web designer in me knows that the margin for human error on the internet is… huge.

The biggest takeaway I have so far about the Youtube algorithm is that it operates similarly to Google’s SEO algorithms: it’s interested in content that gets eyeballs, and it’s pretty heartless about anything that doesn’t do that.

One person said that if you plug away at your channel for a while, and you never develop an audience, there’s a good chance that people simply don’t care about your videos. That would obviously be extremely painful for the content creator behind those videos, but there’s an element of truth there.

I think Google’s search engine algorithm operates at a similar level, but because Google doesn’t control the entire internet (thankfully!), they don’t have the same level of control. That creates an opportunity for abusive and scammy sites to make their way to the top. (One could argue page one of Google has become increasingly useless.) In that sense, this is an apples and oranges comparison, but there is still some truth there. 

Real success is, of course, a little more complicated than understanding the algorithm. Youtube Ali Abdaal has a great video where he breaks down how to be internet successful” better than I ever could: find your unfair advantage.”

His theory is very interesting: successful Youtubers stand out because they have an unfair advantage. Everybody can work hard, but not everybody who runs an industrial design-focussed channel can claim they, say, worked for Apple.

Basically, you need to be a little lucky.

It was a good reminder for my client work, though: if you want to make a successful Youtube channel or a successful website, you need to have decent presentation, publish consistently, and be lucky enough to have a perspective people want to hear from.

… Yeah, super simple.