Making money on YouTube probably sounds like a dream job. You sit around all day playing video games, eating food, getting drunk, doing makeup tutorials, playing guitar or doing whatever the hell else it is people get famous for doing in videos these days – all while grabbing that YouTube money.

Believe it or not, it’s not all fun and games. In fact, if you maintain a YouTube channel for a living, there’s a lot that goes into it—acquiescing to YouTube’s increasingly difficult Terms of Service, continuously coming up with engaging content for your key demographics, paying attention to your metrics and so on.

It might sound like a joke, but making money on YouTube is a serious business, and the PewDiePies, Jenna Marbles and NigaHigas of the world work really hard to make sure you keep coming back – and the YouTube money keeps rolling in.

Still not discouraged? Suit yourself! Here’s an in-depth guide on how to make money on YouTube:

Make Popular Types of Content

Jenna Marbles

The first piece of advice people who write these kinds of articles always give is: “Make videos about things you’re passionate about!” Well, those people are fucking chumps.

If you’re trying to make money on YouTube, pay less attention to what you’re into and more on producing content your audience will like. I know you think millions of YouTubers would be just as interested in the ins and outs of model train building as you, but the fact is, no one gives a shit about that stuff except fellow nerds. Sorry, bud.

If you’re looking to attract an audience, find the most popular type of content YouTube stars are producing, and then do what they do, but do it better. According to MediaKix, the most popular types of videos on YouTube are product review videos, how-to videos, vlogs, gaming videos, comedy/skit videos, shopping purchase videos and meme videos. If you’re trying to turn content into actual YouTube money, it’s all about giving viewers what they’re searching for.

Pay Attention to Metrics

BFvsGF / Youtube

One of the most difficult things about being a content producer is realizing that, despite your best efforts, you probably don’t know as much as you think you do about your key view demographics. You can make educated guesses, but without reviewing, analyzing and learning from your metrics, you’re destined for failure.

YouTube makes a bunch of videos’ metrics available for channel owners, and if you’re trying to make the most share-worthy content out there, paying attention to your metrics is an absolute necessity. Things like views are important (sort of), but if you really want to focus on your metrics, you should familiarize yourself with everything: comments, likes, dislikes, estimated minutes watched, average view duration, click through rates and viewer percentage.

Allow those metrics to help you figure out your most popular content, and open-mindedly look for patterns. Look at your most popular videos’ average lengths, the type of content covered, the techniques used and so on. Once you can figure out why someone liked a video, you can replicate that formula to start making money on YouTube.

Be an Authority in the Topics You Cover

Casey Neistat

You need to be able to establish yourself as a voice that people in the communities you’re targeting can trust and rely on for sound advice and commentary. So, if you want to give product reviews or testimonials, you should be able to do so in a way that makes you authoritative and worth listening to. If you want to have a videogame channel, you better be damn good at the games you’re playing.

The idea here is that people definitely want creative and fun “hosts,” but more than anything, they want someone who they can trust to give them the most accurate, up-to-date and thorough information available. Try to know so goddamn much about what you’re talking about that they simply won’t want to go anywhere else.

Be Attractive. And if You Can’t do that, at Least Have a Good Personality

Brad Hall / Youtube

Hey man, don’t kill the messenger! The fact is, if people are going to spend three or four minutes of their day staring at someone, they’d rather it be someone they find attractive and personable. If you’re looking to cultivate a solid following on YouTube and make that YouTube money, the rules that apply for TV still apply: you need to be visually appealing.

Luckily, the rules appear to be a little more lax for YouTube stars. You don’t necessarily have to be obscenely physically attractive or supermodel hot, but when you’re not, you have to be able to keep people watching, sharing and subscribing. That’s the name of the game.

Promote Your Content Elsewhere

Brian McPherson / Youtube

When I’m not slinging content for sites like Highsnobiety, I’m a full-time content strategist at a major screen printing company here in the States. Time and time again, no matter whether I’m talking to seasoned advertising firm executives or new “professionals” in the business, people seem to think, “if you build good content, they will come.” Well, that’s horse shit.

There’s actually an entire genre of marketing (conveniently called Content Marketing) solely dedicated to the idea of getting great, solid content seen by as many people as possible. The reason those people exist is because 98 percent of the time (that’s a random statistic I just made up, but I’d be willing to bet it’s accurate) content doesn’t just arbitrarily go viral. The content that does go viral is because it was strategized and released through the right channels of distribution.

You won’t get anywhere just by thinking that if you post good content, it’ll automatically go viral. You should actively be engaging users and promoting your content on social media. You should have a website, where you frequently post updates about your content and where people can see it. You should even be spending money on different paid ads across social (like Instagram, Twitter and, most importantly, Facebook) where you’ll be able to target specific age groups, genders and people with specific interests.

From there, hope that they like your content enough to share it with their friends. Place your content directly in front of the right people and if it’s good enough, that’s when it’ll take off. The cold hard truth is that getting videos to go viral takes time, tact and money.

Worry Less About AdSense – It’s Not Worth It

Casey Neistat

One of the biggest misconceptions about making money on YouTube is that the best method is monetizing your videos with Google AdSense. People think that when your excellent content just randomly goes viral, all those AdSense bucks just come rolling in. Well, you’re way off. Google pays people pennies on the dollar for their content traffic, and if you spend any concerted amount of time focusing on that, you’re destined for failure.

Don’t get me wrong: you should monetize your videos and register with AdSense, because even pennies from advertising are still pennies in your pocket. But your goal should be cultivating a big enough following – becoming a big enough and authoritative enough voice – that brands specifically seek you out to do business. Your traffic isn’t where you’ll make money. It’s all about leveraging your following into business relationships.

Let’s say, for instance, that you have a fishing channel. You go out on the boat every view days, strap a GoPro to your forehead, and let the good times roll. Over time, your content is so engaging and your personality so fun that you cultivate hundreds of thousands of subscribers that want to see your daily catch. Someone at [Popular Fishing Rod Company] comes across your channel, and notices that every time you post a video, you’re seeing hundreds of thousands of views.

You bet your ass that low-level marketing manager at [Popular Fishing Rod Company] wants to have their products being used on your videos, because the potential of having their products being shown in-use by a trusted social influencer with a devout following means potentially big earnings for them. That’s how it works.

Treat it Like a Business, and Maybe It’ll Turn Into One

Unbreakable Kicks / Youtube

My final point is really more to reiterate the idea that, if you want to make money on YouTube, you need to focus on it like it’s a growing business. It’s not primarily about fun, being cool or having a good time; it’s about business.

Taking an analytical, metrics-based approach to your work and allowing those things to influence the direction of your content will do more to help you make money on YouTube than anything else. Understanding these metrics more than your competition does and then using them to make better content is how you’ll win that YouTube money.

Joining content-sharing networks; paying for small, strategically-targeted ad campaigns; cultivating a following not just on YouTube but across other social platforms (and then figuring out how to make all of them work for you): now that is how you turn a YouTube channel in a media empire.

Good luck!

On the topic of making money from creative pursuits, do you really need to study fashion design?

  • Lead image: Susan Kirschbaum
What To Read Next