An overlooked factor in YouTube success: good writing

When YouTubers need to get more viewers, they try all the tricks: wacky thumbnails, clickbait titles, giveaways, collabs, and the list goes on. However, what no one seems to talk about also happens to be one of the most important elements of a successful video: good writing.

Delivering the right information at the right time in a way that’s clear and easy to understand is essential if you want people to watch your entire video. And considering views generally come from YouTube deciding to present your video to its viewers, you should want what YouTube wants. And what YouTube wants is view duration.

Yet most YouTubers get this wrong.

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View duration is a good metric for determining the quality of content. If a creator can keep viewers watching for a long duration, those viewers are probably enjoying the content. That’s why YouTube considers it so much for making recommendations to its users.

Yet too many creators try to game the metric with cheap tactics like teasing giveaways or withholding content simply to appease the algorithm. Instead, the focus should be on making sure content is compelling throughout the entire video, optimizing for viewer satisfaction.

Great storytellers have been doing this for centuries using Freytag’s Pyramid, or the three-act structure. There’s a lot to learn about story structure, but we can simplify the idea by describing it as the craft of organizing information in a way that keeps an audience engaged.

Here’s an example.

My wife and I have recently been getting into board games, and we’re discovering how deep this hobby goes. We know how to play Chess and Checkers and Candy Land, but we weren’t expecting the level of complexity in some of these games.

So we did what any responsible consumer would do in this situation: We watched board game reviews on YouTube.

From what I can tell, there are only a small handful of established board game review channels. Watching several videos from the established channels and smaller channels, it’s clear what sets them apart: how they present information.

Less established creators are much more likely to have unscripted videos. They’re often lightly edited or not edited at all. They usually sLess established creators are much more likely to have unscripted videos. They’re often lightly edited or not edited at all. They usually spend most of the time either talking about the game’s mechanics with a very brief assessment at the end or giving almost no coverage of mechanics with the majority of the video expressing their opinions.

The established creators are much more regimented. They very briefly lay a foundation of the game’s premise. They cover the mechanics of the game in broad strokes. Then they give a brief but detailed evaluation and conclude with a recommendation. 

The details of each phase of the video aren’t as important as how deliberate and consistent it is. For example, a channel might settle on 20 percent premise description, 40 percent mechanic description, 30 percent evaluation and 10 percent buyer recommendation. Again, the specifics aren’t as important as the fact that it’s deliberate.

Established channels map how long their videos will linger on a specific topic. They know what they say to introduce the topic. They know how much background information they need to provide. In some cases, they may have planned rising and climaxing conflict using the principles of Freytag’s pyramid. They’ve tested the format, and they know when viewership tends to drop off. In short, they wrote a script, or at the very least, an outline of their video.

The difficult advice for increasing viewer retention is to make a plan. Don’t skip pre-production. Without this step, you may find yourself in a position where your video’s introduction is half its total duration. And that will probably result in a video with poor viewer retention and very few views.

Properly organizing information is an essential skill that the world’s best storytellers spend a lifetime developing. Creators who aspire to engage viewers should take it just as seriously.