The First-Timer’s Guide to YouTube Advertising

The First-Timer's Guide to YouTube Advertising

If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you may have noticed we talk about Google AdWords pretty regularly. That’s because it’s a massive advertising platform with the potential to reach just about any audience—right at the moment that they’re searching for something related to what you have to offer.

Powerful stuff, for sure. But in another sense, your advertising options with AdWords are rather limited: you can use only text to convey your message, and only a few lines of it.

But what if that weren’t the case? What if you could combine the power of the AdWords platform with the multimedia engagement potential of, say, video?

Therein lies the promise of YouTube advertising. So why haven’t we covered this topic much before? It boils down to two main reasons:

1. YouTube recently made some significant changes to how its video ads work, so many of the best practices for that platform are quite new.

2. We like to speak from experience . . . and until this past month, we simply didn’t have much in this area.

That’s right: LeadPages just launched its first-ever YouTube video ad campaign. And the first set of data is hot out of Google’s data ovens.

So . . . are we kicking ourselves for not harnessing this traffic source earlier?

Read on to find out. In today’s post, I’m going to share what we’ve learned from our first round of YouTube advertising. Then, I’m going to help you explore whether YouTube advertising might be right for your business—and how to get your first campaign rolling smoothly if it is.

I’m not going to cover the logistics of filming your YouTube video ads in this post, but if you’re making your own videos, I’ve got something for you that may be even better: a colorful infographic our own video producer Jeff Wenberg created to break down what he calls “The S.L.A.C.K. Video Formula.” It’ll show you five steps you can take to create highly effective marketing videos on almost no budget (including specific product recommendations). Click below to grab it right away:

On to the results. Imagine me pressing the big red Play button now.


Our First YouTube Video Ad: What We Learned


We’ve made more than 350 videos in the past two years, so our video team had plenty of experience when starting out. Still, when it came time to craft an ad, we kept things simple. We decided to approach our first video-ad campaign from a branding standpoint, and we wanted to get a sense of the results we’d get with an easy-to-grasp message of what people can do with LeadPages before planning anything more elaborate.

So as some cheerful but simple animation played onscreen, our narrator Jeff delivered this brief message:

“It’s time for your marketing to start hitting the mark. Get LeadPages and collect more leads and drive more sales. Click to learn how to grow your business.”

Three lines. 20 seconds. What would it do for us?

To understand the metrics we got, it’s helpful to understand a little bit about how Google calculates your results for this kind of campaign. We requested a Google Brand Lift report to give us insight into how this ad had impacted brand awareness.

A sample Brand Lift report from Google
A sample Brand Lift report from Google

Over the course of two weeks—as our ad racked up hundreds of thousands of views—Google’s Brand Lift technology was busy surveying two groups of thousands of YouTube watchers: a control group that had never been exposed to our video ad, and a group that had seen the ad one or more times.

To assess whether the video was really sticking with people in the long term, the survey was delivered anywhere from several hours to several days after exposure. It popped up at the beginning of different YouTube videos, asking whether viewers either:

a) remembered seeing our video ad, or
b) were familiar with our company’s name.

Here are the two main things the data from that survey told us:

1. Video advertising might be sorta subliminal.

After two weeks of running the ad, we had two major statistics:

The percentage of people who recalled that they’d seen our video ad campaign increased by 9% after the campaign.

But the percentage of people who reported that they’d heard of LeadPages increased by 17.8% after the campaign.

While it’s possible that those people who were newly aware of LeadPages but didn’t recall watching the video encountered us somewhere else in that time, this is a rather large discrepancy to be explained by this factor. It suggests that even if people aren’t paying much attention to your ad, your company’s name may still stick in their mind.

The report did reveal one surefire way to make people remember your video: show it to them again. Viewers who saw our ad twice were almost 6 times more likely to say they’d seen it than those who’d watched it only once.

2. YouTube ads are an easy way to enhance brand awareness, but it takes more work to turn viewers into customers.

We’re still digging into the other metrics from this first foray. Because we had a simple brand-awareness goal for this campaign, we didn’t send viewers to a dedicated landing page tailored to collect opt-ins. Instead, those who clicked were taken to our homepage to learn more about LeadPages® in general.

We conceived this ad as one touch among many for most viewers, so we weren’t necessarily expecting a flood of new members immediately. And, unsurprisingly, we didn’t observe that. It’s worth noting that in general average click-through rates from YouTube ads are lower than from a number of other forms of digital advertising. On the other hand, few forms of advertising give you such a captive audience or as big a chance to seize their attention.

If you need a strategy to increase revenue immediately, a YouTube ad may not be enough on its own to take viewers straight to a sale. This will depend heavily on your industry and what you’re selling, however. LeadPages® has a ton of features that we can’t easily fit into a 20-second space. But if, for instance, you’re making a video advertising an easy-to-demonstrate tech gadget or an app, you may well be able to lead people directly to a sales page with terrific results.

If you’re curious, here’s the ad we ran:


How to Build a YouTube Advertising Campaign from Scratch


You don’t need to have a dedicated video team to test the waters of YouTube advertising. Especially if you have a cool story to tell or a visually exciting product to display, a YouTube video ad may be ideal for your smaller business. Pricing options currently start at $10 a day, which Google says you can expect to produce about 2,000 views. (We found that we were paying about $0.06 per view, all said and done.)

Most business budgets have room for that—and, as with AdWords’ other tools, you pay only when you cross a certain threshold of engagement. If viewers skip your ad before the 30-second mark, you don’t pay anything.

Starting from scratch, here’s what you’ll need to do to get your first YouTube video ad campaign up and running.

A quick note: YouTube videos can be used in several forms of advertising, but in this post I’m talking specifically about what were, until recently, called “in-stream video ads.” Right now, YouTube just calls them “video ads.” These appear at the start of other videos on YouTube, in the sidebar on video pages, and on YouTube search results pages. Here’s how to get the most out of them.

1. Set your goal.

Decide what you want to get out of this campaign. The answer will impact everything from the kind of video you make to the metrics you pay closest attention to. YouTube ads could be a great option for you if you want to . . .

  • Increase brand awareness: We’ve covered this a bit already. If you’re at a point where you have a solid business built up and want to get your name and image out there more widely, YouTube is an excellent option.
  • Increase traffic to a specific page: You can also use YouTube ads to drive traffic to a specific page on your site. You’ll need to choose and place your call to action carefully here in addition to giving careful thought to your choice of landing page. You may also want to consider a longer-form video with the space to be more specific about what viewers will find on that page.
  • Get more YouTube subscribers: If you’re continually updating your YouTube channel with great content, there’s no more natural place to attract more subscribers than with YouTube ads.
  • Drive sales: Video ads give you a unique opportunity to show off a specific product. If you can vividly demonstrate your product’s appeal inside of 60 seconds, consider linking your YouTube ad directly to a sales page.

These probably aren’t the only viable goals for a YouTube advertising campaign. But whatever yours may be, you should think it through carefully well before you press Record.

2. Plan your message.

Once you’ve set a goal, you’ll want to tailor your message so that it fits into YouTube’s prescribed video length. Currently, YouTube videos come in two flavors: unskippable, which must be 15–30 seconds or less depending on your industry and your part of the world, and skippable, which can run up to 60 seconds and can be used for retargeting via an AdWords pixel.

The shorter you can make your message without weakening it, the better. For one thing, you risk losing your audience’s attention and good will the longer you keep them from watching what they clicked to see.

Your goal and message will also help determine what kind of video you make. Even in under a minute, there are plenty of formats you can use. Would any of the following kinds of video ads make sense for your business and message?

  • Slideshow format: This consists of photos, text, music, and perhaps some narration or simple animation—no live footage required.
  • Traditional sales video: Sometimes your message is simply best conveyed by a spokesperson talking directly to the audience. This kind of video is also very easy to film.
  • Promo video: Can you offer YouTube viewers something special? Tell them about it in an ad. You can use as many or as few kinds of media as you like to do this—just be sure to give your promotion a distinct name and link your video to a page where people can easily opt in.
  • Mini documentary: There’s no need to stick to one kind of footage. If your business is complex or holds a lot of visual appeal, consider intercutting things like interviews, narration, event footage, and onscreen text.
  • Product demo: If you make a physical product, an app, or a game, there’s no more efficient way to demonstrate its benefits than by showing how it works.
  • How to: Assuming your business lends itself to this kind of content, this can be your best bet for averting the Skip button. You can share a surprising range of skills within 60 seconds—a cooking instructor could demonstrate a cool trick for peeling garlic, for instance, or a success coach could deliver a quick public-speaking tip.
  • Buying guide: Show off and compare several different kinds of products in a category of merchandise that you sell or that’s simply relevant to your industry. A golf pro could run down a list of the best new clubs, or a home-audio specialist could demonstrate this year’s best speakers.
  • Behind the scenes: If you have an especially charismatic team or interesting work process, this kind of video can capture attention without feeling like a hard sell.
  • Customer testimonials: You have to know your customers here—testimonials that come off as stilted or insincere will do more harm than good. But if you have a few clients who’d be comfortable on camera, invite them to share how you’ve helped them.

Am I missing any important video types here? Tell me in the comments!

We’ll cover how to make several of these types of video ads below. But first . . .

3. Plan your keywords, your audience, and your landing page.

The rules of AdWords keyword targeting apply here, too. Your keywords have to be both relevant to your video and to the page where your ads link.

So you’ll want to take a targeted approach. For instance, in our video ad, we chose keywords related to landing pages, marketing, and entrepreneurship, since those are topics our audience cares about and we write about on our site. You can also use demographic-based targeting categories, such as age, gender, location, and interests.

As with AdWords, Google will judge you on the quality of your landing page. (In this context, a landing page is wherever you send your viewers.) Any page you link your ad to needs to be:

  • Relevant to your ad
  • Mobile responsive
  • Easy to navigate
  • Quick to load

If you’re unsure whether your website qualifies, consider sending YouTube traffic to a landing page made with LeadPages, which will—assuming you update the content, of course—hit all these benchmarks with ease. We designed the PPC/AdWords landing page template previewed below especially for this purpose, but many kinds of templates will work here.

The AdWords/PPC 2.0 Landing Page Template
The AdWords/PPC 2.0 Landing Page Template

A dedicated landing page also gives you the chance to add viewers to your email address through offering them something relevant to your video. For example, if you were a nutritionist who ran a video ad demonstrating a healthy cooking technique, you could send viewers to a landing page where they can opt in to get your cookbook.

4. Make a video.

Yes, yes—this is obvious. But it’s also the part of the process most likely to stop people in their tracks. Making videos is often seen as a specialized skillset, and while talented video artists can do amazing things, it’s very likely that you can get the job done on your own.

To help you do that, our own Jeff Wenberg has created a free guide for you called “The S.L.A.C.K. Video Formula.” It’ll show you the five main elements you need to concentrate on to get great results if you’re filming a standard, person-talking-into-camera video. Jeff also tells you the exact, very-low-budget tools he’d use if he were just starting out as a video producer today. Click below to download it now:

YouTube’s advertising system can help with editing once you’ve got a basic storyline stitched together. The Video Ad Builder lets you drop pieces of footage into templates with themes like Intro to My Business or Product Demo. You can even add music with this tool.

A snapshot of YouTube's Video Ad Builder
A snapshot of YouTube’s Video Ad Builder

These options are pretty easy, but if they sound too time-consuming, you can still make video work for you. Remember the “slideshow” format? You can find programs on the web that make assembling this kind of video extremely easy. With options like Veeroll, you simply choose a template and update the text and images, and the software guides you through every other step in the process.

4. Create your call to action.

YouTube recently made some major changes in the way it presents links inside ads, and the possibilities for your call to action have expanded. Here are your options as they stand today:

  • Annotations: Behind this rather obscure-sounding term lies an awesome feature: the ability to make just about any part of your video clickable. An annotation is essentially a transparent overlay you set to appear at a certain point in your video on a certain location on the screen. When someone clicks, they’re taken to the landing page you’ve set as the destination URL on your YouTube channel.Ideally, your video will call out the annotated area in some way. You can get creative and have someone point to the area onscreen, or you can simply create a “button” graphic. In the screenshot below, we’ve made the button clickable with an annotation, and highlighted the call to action even more with an arrow pointing to it. People may not be used to clicking links inside a YouTube video, so you need to make this unmissable. Put your best call to action here.
The end screen of our first video ad
The end screen of our first video ad
  • Advertiser link: This very small link automatically pops up in the corner of the screen (see it at the bottom left above), and also goes to the destination URL you’ve selected. While you can’t customize this, you can draw visual attention to it with arrows or other elements if you’re using on-screen graphics.
  • Header: This is the other automatic link onscreen, in the top left. It will show your YouTube avatar, video title, and channel name, so you’ll want to make sure all these elements reflect well on your company. Unlike with the advertiser link, you likely won’t want to draw visual attention to this one—it simply links to the video page on YouTube, so unless you’re looking for shares and comments, you can give this area a quick once over and then leave it be.
  • Call to action overlay: Call-to-action overlays pop into the same place as the advertiser link as soon as the video starts playing, then shrink into a thumbnail image unless the viewer clicks. You can add a custom message and even a tiny image.
  • Cards: This is a very new feature. They’re similar to call-to-action overlays, except they appear in the top right corner of the screen and they can expand more when clicked, introducing the possibility of adding a larger visual element. These only stay on screen briefly, but you can extend that time by simply re-adding the card at the point when it would disappear. You can also add different cards at different points in each video.
  • Companion banners: These are optional—and optionally animated—images that appear outside and to the left of the video player, only when your ad is playing on a standard YouTube desktop watch screen. These aren’t visible on mobile, but if you have the time, go ahead and ad text and images here that support your call to action.

5. Post your video to YouTube.

Hurray, your first YouTube video ad is ready to go! Post the video to your YouTube channel, and remember to go ahead and provide a transcript or summary in the Description area to get a little extra SEO juice on the side. Currently, YouTube requires that you submit your finished video no later than four days before your campaign starts. When you submit your video to the AdWords for Video system, you’ll also apply the keyword, targeting, and budget options we mentioned earlier.

5. Assess, optimize, repeat (if desired).

Now it’s time to watch the results roll in, paying most attention to the metrics that speak to the primary goal you set at the beginning. If you’re having some initial success, consider whether there’s room to refine your targeting or your messaging—then, launch another campaign, this time with some valuable experience under your belt.

There are a few aspects of YouTube advertising I haven’t covered here, but happily YouTube has some very easy to follow tutorials available for marketers new to the platform—get started here. And for a great intro on making any kind of marketing video on a budget, grab our “S.L.A.C.K. Video Formula Infographic” free below:

Are you doing any YouTube advertising? Have you seen any YouTube ads that were too good to be skipped? Tell us in the comments!