Your YouTube subscriber count isn’t just another vanity metric. Getting more subscribers is the best way to maximize your organic reach on the second-largest website in the multiverse.
And if your goal is to actually make money on YouTube, hitting subscriber milestones is necessary to access many monetization features. For instance, you need at least 1,000 subscribers to become a YouTube Partner and start earning ad revenue. And the more subscribers you have, the higher you rise on YouTube’s fancy “benefit level” ladder (think: awards, managers, production aid.).
But for those of us who aren’t trying to go viral or become YouTube stars—we can hear you out there, you’re saying “But I’m just here to support my brand’s digital strategy with long-form video!”—subscribers are still crucial. Why?
Because 70% of the one billion hours of video that people watch on YouTube every day is decided by the YouTube algorithm. Which means that your ability to reach new eyes improves when you have subscribers who are bumping up your play counts, watch time, and engagement.
If you’re looking to get more YouTube views, check out our guide over here. But if you’re looking to turn viewers into subscribers? Read on for a list of actionable tactics.
Bonus: Download a free guide that reveals the exact steps one creator took to gain more than 23,000,000 views on YouTube with no budget and no expensive gear.
But first, let’s address the elephant in the room.
Why you shouldn’t buy YouTube subscribers
Maybe you found this article because you were looking for an easy hack. A hack so easy that it could make a person YouTube famous with zero effort?
Look, we understand. We aren’t shame nuns; we get that busy people need to be efficient.
But the creators behind the world’s best YouTube channels aren’t spending their time or money on bot subscribers. They’re too busy making awesome videos.
They don’t bother, and neither should you.
First let’s look at how free YouTube subscriber services work. It’s a two-step process:
- You earn your ‘free’ subscribers by subscribing to and liking other channels, as instructed by the service. Most ask you to subscribe to 20 channels and like a certain number of videos. In return, 10 channels will subscribe to yours.
- After a few days of hiring yourself out as a one-person clickfarm, you get bored and decide to spend the $10 USD (or $30 or $100) to get your fake followers without all the hassle.
The whole set-up is fairly similar to the time we tried Instagram engagement pods. Either way, the service wins: they either get your time or your money. What do you get?
- Bot subscribers that don’t engage
- A bad look for your real audience, who are probably quite keen on authenticity
- The risk of running afoul of YouTube’s fake engagement policy (tl;dr you could get banned)
- Potential stink-eye from any brands looking to partner with you
At the end of the day, it’s just not worth it.
Meanwhile, there are a lot of prank videos out there that purport to have the secret to millions of subscribers. While we love the inventiveness—for instance, begging an anonymous Google employee who seems to operate akin to something out of The Secret to grant you your subscriber request—these videos are really only useful if you are the person that made them. (Because the person that made this one got 600,000 views.)
Now let’s look at some actual real-world tactics that won’t waste your time.
How to get free YouTube subscribers: 17 tips
First, if you’re just starting out, take a look at our guide to creating a YouTube channel from scratch. It’s a lot of work but it’s also a clean slate. And, to help you save time, we’ve compiled a list of beginner tips for YouTube.
And now, in order from easiest to most complicated, our best practices for converting viewers into subscribers. Don’t tackle them all at once. Try out one of these tips for each new video you post, or implement one a week. Here we go.
1. Ask your viewers to subscribe
I told you we’re starting with the easiest ones first.
Sometimes your audience just needs to be reminded. The big red subscribe button is omnipresent, but you might also want to point out the bell beside it that turns on notifications for your new videos. Simple.
Does this tip seem too salesy to you? This is your reminder that you’ve got valuable content, and you’re just making it easier for them to keep up with the work you do.
If you’re already doing this, remember to demonstrate why your channel is worth subscribing to. And make sure you do it right when they love you the most (e.g., right after you’ve provided new and useful information, or you’ve made them laugh). Don’t do it too much, or you’ll risk turning people off.
2. End your videos by mentioning the one you’re working on next
Subscribing to a YouTube channel is an act of anticipation. Viewers who’ve just seen what your brand is about are primed to want more, if you’ve done your job right.
Hyping your next video, and making it clear why it’s not to be missed, is the most organic way to encourage people to tap subscribe.
Of course, this requires having a good handle on your content schedule, and knowing what’s coming next. (More on that soon.)
3. Interact with your audience and make friends
If you form relationships with your viewers, they’re more likely to want to keep watching your work. Respond to comments. Follow their channels back.
Yes, it’s exciting if a famous YouTuber comments on your video, but who knows who’ll be famous next year. Form a community of peers and promote each other. (Yes, I’m talking about shine theory.)
Also, once you’re plugged in, your audience will provide you with plenty of free content ideas for your next video. Don’t worry, you don’t have to take all of them.
4. Update your channel art
Your YouTube banner welcomes everyone who clicks over to check out your channel. Maybe they just watched a video and are looking for more. Maybe they’re a potential subscriber. Put your best foot forward.
Your banner needs to be clean, on-brand, compelling, and—this is the fussy part—optimized for all devices. You don’t want important details covered up by your social media buttons, for instance.
We have a handy guide for creating your own YouTube channel art, along with free templates with the most up-to-date dimensions.
5. Brand your thumbnails
A thumbnail is a 1280 x 720px still image that acts as a cover for your video. And they are also your first, best chance to persuade people to click on your video. (Aside from your video titles, that is, but more on that later.)
While some might advocate using the most “eye-catching” design (which seems to mean screaming red capslock over a man’s shocked face and a picture of a… tomato?), one size does not fit all on YouTube.
But we aren’t here to earn cold views.
To convert a viewer into a subscriber, take a look at your videos page. What does a new viewer see? Sleek, professional and consistent videos that imply an ongoing commitment to quality? Or a random mish-mash competing for attention?
You want to aim for consistent branding in all your thumbnails. Use the same font, the same colour palette, or even the same frame composition so people know (at least subconsciously) that they’re looking at a video from your channel.
For instance, John Plant has built his survivalist Primitive Technology channel up to 9.9 million subscribers with understated, minimalist thumbnails. They’re not loud, but they are consistent. And most importantly, they’re clickable.
6. Embed your videos on your website or blog
This one is win-win, because embedding video on your website may well help your site’s search rankings with the Google algorithm. And as far as YouTube subscribers go, you’re presenting your video right where the people most likely to care about it are already looking.
7. Use YouTube’s clickable tools in your videos
YouTube killed annotations a few years back, and good riddance. Pop-ups are one 90s throwback we’re all better off without.
That said, YouTube has some other, less annoying, tools for you to use:
- End screens: these are still images at the end of your video where you can remind people to subscribe, or insert another call to action, before YouTube’s algorithm moves them on to the next video.
- Branding watermarks: this is an extra subscribe button that will hover over your video throughout, even in full screen. Like so:
8. Think in terms of playlists
Playlists are a great way to increase your channel’s watch time. They also motivate people to click subscribe by lining up your best content in one place. (Or your related content, in several places.)
Epicurious, for instance, treats their YouTube playlists like TV series. It’s very bingeable and if, at the end, people want to be notified when there are new videos, they will subscribe.
Meanwhile, LEGO uses playlists more loosely, adding videos to relevant playlists by topic (i.e., all the Minecraft-inspired videos go in one; all the Star Wars videos in another.)
9. Run a contest
If you want a short-term bump in engagement, or just feel like you’ve been languishing in a subscriber count plateau, check out our guide to running a YouTube contest.
Key steps include choosing a prize that matters to your audience, and asking viewers to subscribe and turn on notifications in order to participate.
10. Celebrate your subscriber milestones
Everyone loves a round number. Celebrate them and thank the people who got you there.
For inspiration, here is a video with reactions for every single milestone you could possibly ever hit.
Bonus: Download a free guide that reveals the exact steps one creator took to gain more than 23,000,000 views on YouTube with no budget and no expensive gear.Get the free guide right now!
11. Release videos on a consistent schedule
Many experts confidently cite a rule-of-thumb as to how often creators should post video to their channels. For instance: one video a week to start, increasing to 3-4 week as your channel grows.
The theory is that more videos = more watch time from viewers. But prioritizing quantity over quality has drawbacks.
If your goal is to convert viewers to subscribers, you need to focus on quality first, and consistency next. (Then you can start worrying about quantity.)
If you upload videos consistently, then people know that more good content is coming, and they’re more likely to tap subscribe.
12. Entice your audience over from other social media channels
This means cross-promoting on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook—wherever you have a community of fans established.
This can be as simple as encouraging people to check out your YouTube channel in your Instagram or Twitter bio.
Alternately, you can make the most of your investment in video production by cross-posting your content across channels.
Now that IGTV, for instance, accepts horizontal long-form video, it’s an easy step to upload your masterpiece over there, too.
That said, if your ultimate aim is to get more subscribers, you should post teaser snippets on social, and make sure to link to your YouTube channel in order to drive your audience there.
Pro tip: a social media scheduling tool like Hootsuite makes cross-promoting much easier. And we have a full guide to creating a social media content calendar.
13. Do your keyword research to title your videos and define your niche
This tip is very important for earning views, so it bears repeating.
Looking at the keywords related to your subject matter that people are already searching for on YouTube will help you title your new video and choose your tags. But it might also lend inspiration for your next video topic.
For example, if you have a YouTube channel about making kombucha at home, some preliminary keyword research might reveal a bunch of topics YouTube viewers are interested in on the same subject, like how to choose the right brewing vessel, how to clean your brewing vessel, or how to perform second fermentation. These topics could all be the subject of their own videos.
SEO tools like Google Keyword Planner can help you identify the words people are using to find the information you’re providing. Your goal is to find topics in a sweet spot: lower competition scores, but higher search volume.
This lets you avoid making videos that no one is searching for (see the next tip for that one.) Or videos with titles no one can find.
Also, it’ll help you avoid creating content on a topic that’s already highly competitive before you’re ready.
14. Give people what they don’t even know they want yet
80% of your videos should be SEO-focused (see the previous tip) to bring in new eyeballs, but that leaves 20% for value-added content. By which we mean exclusive videos that no one else can make, or no one else has thought of.
Because in order to get people to click that subscribe button, you need to go beyond functionality and provide value outside of established search patterns.
As a plus: your blue ocean strategy (a.k.a. making videos in an uncontested market space) is where you get to be creative and do something new and original.
Like showing off your possum massage skills.
15. Create topical videos, as well as evergreen ones
Here’s another 80/20 rule for you. 80% evergreen, 20% topical.
Evergreen content is important to bump up your watch time, yes. (Halloween videos are not so popular come February.) But topical content is key if you’re trying to convince people to subscribe.
Why? Because topical content needs to be consumed right away, or close to it. So if your hot takes on the latest political fiasco, NBA game, or red-carpet gala are can’t-miss additions to the internet discourse, then your fans will want to be notified. And they will subscribe.
16. Partner with other channels
This goes all the way back to Tip #3: Make Friends. Use your connections to partner with other YouTube creators and leverage each other’s audiences. Your audience trusts your recommendations, and their audiences trust theirs, so take advantage.
For instance, Popsugar’s “Top That!” series invited guests to chat. It was like a daytime talk show, but for viral video stars, like the psychic possum masseuse.
17. Partner with celebrities
This one’s listed last because it’s definitely the hardest one.
Unless you’re Anna Wintour, and you can make a bunch of videos where celebrities ask you questions. (Note: if you’re Anna Wintour, please consider this Tip #1.)
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