YouTube User Guide

YouTube is the second largest social network on the planet – with nearly 2 billion monthly active users, only Facebook has a larger audience. YouTube is also the second-most popular search engine, behind only Google Search — both entities are owned by the organization Alphabet.

YouTube is a video viewing and sharing platform where users can create channels, subscribe to other users, and interact with/comment on videos. YouTube can be considered a hybrid between a social media network and a search engine – only Google has more search queries per day than YouTube. Due to this, YouTube requires a different approach than other social media networks.

Note: This guide assumes a basic proficiency with YouTube and focuses on managing a brand channel page. If you are a campus unit considering starting a channel, please reach out to the University Communications office, as many units simply have a subsection on the main UChicago channel.

Why YouTube?

Because of its size and functionality, YouTube is the single best place to post videos online. Almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every single day and as of January of 2020, Americans spend more time every day on YouTube than time watching any television channel. If you are making video content that is meant to be seen by an online audience, it should be going on YouTube.

Your YouTube Page

In addition to following University Branding Guidelines, it is important to set up your YouTube channel so that viewers recognize it as a place for reputable, quality content and organized in a way that is useful to your potential audience and “discoverable” for user search. Success on YouTube means drawing new users to your page to watch a video and then keeping them there to explore further. The goal of a brand YouTube channel is to draw in an audience, and then retain that audience.

Take these basic steps:

Maintain Your Profile Appearance: Like any social account, it is essential to have a profile picture, bio, associated links and other sections completed. Establishing your YouTube presence tells potential users that you are legitimate, gives you an opportunity to talk about your brand, and sets audience expectations for what type of video content they can find on the page.

Set a Featured Video: This acts as an introduction to your channel, but it can also be used to highlight a recent or important feature of your brand. Make sure this video — which appears prominently on your home page, represents your organization effectively.

Create and Curate Playlists: Creating channel playlists on YouTube is a way to categorize your videos so users can quickly find the types of videos they are searching for, and invites them to view more videos on your page that share similarities. When coming to your channel, these serve as the primary way for viewers to find specific types of videos. Examples: Lectures, Interviews, thematic collections, etc.

The above three steps are essential to your YouTube success. The video-specific criteria outlined in the following section will help you build upon your established YouTube channel.

What Gets a YouTube Video More Views?

Videos on YouTube have customization options that make the more functionable and discoverable. Since YouTube is explored like a search engine your video content may be difficult to find if you do not apply some basic user-friendly search engine optimization (“SEO”) standards.

The more thoughtful you are in describing, categorizing, and designing content for the platform, the more likely YouTube users will find your videos and choose to watch it. To note, all of the below notes are steps you can take any time after a video has been uploaded—including videos that are years old, and videos that have already been viewed many times on YouTube.

Create Descriptive, Searchable Video Title: Make sure that the subject matter of the video is very clear from its title – but keep it simple. Much like the headline of a webpage, this is the easiest way your video will be found. Think about the video’s topic, then work backwards to create a title based on how someone might be searching for your video. Your best YouTube video title might be a question, it might include notable people, or include niche subject matter. Lead with the specific, knowing that users may only see the first few words. Save the broad topic keywords for your description and tags.

Allow Closed Captioning: As a University institution, The ADA requires that our YouTube videos have captions available. For both the hearing impaired and those who don’t want to turn the volume on, captions are a must for YouTube videos. You can add captions within YouTube by uploading a transcript (an .srt file) or editing YouTube’s auto generated captions. You also have the option of allowing your YouTube viewers to add and correct video captions. YouTube (and Google) use video captioning to determine the contents and quality of video subject matter, so good captioning combined with good tile/descriptions will lead to more video views.

Add Appropriate Tags: “Tagging” social media content categories it so it is more easily discovered. In YouTube’s case, tagged video is more likely to be “suggested” to YouTube users who are viewing similar videos. Words and phrases associated with your video should be added as tags to all your YouTube videos. Apply as many tags as possible to your videos so long as the tags are accurate for the video you are sharing. Adding popular tags that are irrelevant to your video will hurt your video’s ability to be found. Focus on the specific — e.g. “ Astrophysics Lecture” not “physics.”  To strengthen you entire collection of YouTube videos consider applying one or two general brand tags to every video which are commonly searched for e.g. “UChicago Astro” and “University of Chicago Astronomy”

Choose a Good Thumbnail: The still image that appears as your video’s “thumbnail” is crucial. This image should be captivating and interesting, accurately represent what the contents of the video feature, and work in tandem with your headline. A bad thumbnail is a clear sign to YouTube users of low quality because you did not take a moment to select a thumbnail, and therefore not worth their time. YouTube automatically selects a thumbnail from the middle of your video, but often another one of the options YouTube provides is a better option. Look for imagery that features a close-up of a person or an image that encapsulates what the video is about. If there is not a good thumbnail option, you can create and upload your own image.

Detailed Description with Standard Messaging: The “Description” section of your youtube video is where you can go more in-depth. Paragraphs explaining more about the video should be used, and it is the best opportunity to describe some further detail about the video that may not be evident in your title. While it is less influential than the headline, a good video description helps people searching for videos immensely. Do not be afraid of a long video description (2-3 paragraphs is acceptable) so long as the first two sentences effectively describe the video, similar to a subhead. Also consider a brief “Call to Action” at the bottom of each of your videos that describes your program and provides a link to more information, or other social channels. Use the video description to include keyword variations to increase the chances of your video being found. For example if the title of your video says “Fall Classes”, use the term “Autumn Curriculum.” The Video Editor function within YouTube allows you to make “batch” changes in which you can add an identical closing “About Us” sentence to multiple videos simultaneously.

If you are having difficulty deciding how to title, tag, and describe your video content, the best thing you can do is some first-hand research on YouTube itself. Look at how your peers categorize similar videos—and more importantly—type in search words that you think fit your video content, and see what YouTube suggests. Click on the most popular videos in those searches and look how they are described, what their headlines look like, and consider how you might adjust your YouTube headlines and descriptions to improve and iterate on what YouTube ranks as its best.

We encourage some units to leverage the main UChicago YouTube page, managed by the Office of Communications, to host your video assets. If your unit has, or plans to upload a large amount of YouTube content and would like to host your own YouTube page, please let us know so we can support your page, and help with meeting these above standards.