According to Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience, people remember only 10% of what they read, 50% of what they see and hear, and 90% of what they do.
The average American is bombarded with between 4,000-10,000 ads daily, so it’s no wonder that people rarely remember print or display ads. A good video, however, can linger in a consumer’s mind. With over 2.6 billion unique monthly visitors and 22.8 billion visits per month in 2022 (more than Facebook, Amazon, Wikipedia, and Instagram combined), it’s no wonder that YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine and a great platform for memorable video advertising.
YouTube is hard. People go to YouTube to be entertained or informed, so a lackluster (dare I say boring) unskippable video ad, no matter how short, will surely annoy more than delight your customers.
However, brands do succeed on YouTube with the right strategy. Below, we’ll go over some of these fundamental YouTube advertising best practices and how your brand can drive conversions and sales from YouTube ads.
The Best Practices!
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1. Make Ads People Do not Want to Skip
Making good video content for YouTube is hard. Although this is the most important step, you’d be surprised to know how often this step is rushed by brands eager to get creatives out fast for that upcoming sales campaign.
When I was working in e-commerce marketing, failing to adapt video creatives specifically to YouTube was the biggest mistake I found agencies and brands make. Many assumed that they were talking to a captive audience on YouTube, so 90 seconds of a video ad was viewed as the opportunity for these brands to espouse how great their brand or product are.
However, if you know anything about YouTube, you know that audiences skip video ads by default. In fact, 76% of users skip YouTube ads out of habit. Even this is quite generous, as the figure is probably closer to 95%. Advertisers on YouTube have at most 5 seconds (or even milliseconds) to try and capture the audience’s attention and give them a reason to keep watching. YouTube explains this best themselves in what they call the ABCDs of effective video ads.
Attention, branding, connection, and direction (ABCD) are YouTube’s way of saying you need a dynamic hook, visually tight and compelling storytelling, and a compelling reason for customers to click or continue watching your video.
2. Be Authentic in Your Messaging
Good video content doesn’t necessarily mean expensive budgets. If you’re a small business, you can still make visually compelling ads by telling a unique story or being engaging and authentic.
In fact, authenticity can make up for low budgets. In fact, authenticity is a best practice for connecting with Gen Z and Millennials. Gen Z and Millennials are programmed to tune out overly contrived, expensive, and excessively corporate ads. However, you can’t fake authenticity either, as Kylie Jenner learned the hard way, when she tried to be relatable when promoting the newest Kylie Cosmetics from her car seat. After all, what’s a billion dollar brand trying to pretend like they can’t afford good cameras?
Our advice: be true to you and your brand, whatever your marketing budget may be. Just make good content!
After all, we’ve all seen those paid-for video ads with tens of millions of views, but almost zero engagement or likes (or worse: with comments off). This is because you can pay for views, but conversions and engagement with your brand requires a message which resonates. (Related: 7 YouTube SEO Best Practices That Will Skyrocket Your Views)
3. Split Test Your Ad Creatives
When it comes to ad length, there is no perfect answer. The ad’s engagement and conversions will depend on the message and presentation rather than its length. Conventional evidence from marketers say 30 seconds is a good choice.
However, we recommend as best practice to have creatives in multiple length formats. Split test a video by creating 6 second versions, 15 second versions, and 30 second versions. We don’t recommend doing 2 or 5 minutes (no one has time for that). YouTube’s analytics is wonderful in that it’ll help figure out what length works the best for conversions.
Experiment also with a video’s style to see what resonates. Have ads with voiceover and ads with just text and music. Experiment by starting with a compelling problem and answer statement followed by explicit branding, or start with a compelling visual and story and save the branding for last.
We recommend having at least a minimum of 4 videos to test against each other to see which converts the best. It may surprise you what ads perform better.
Again, you’d be surprised how often brands and agencies wonder why their ads aren’t performing that well, but have no backup creatives. A common solution I’ve seen is brands would rather raise their budgets and increase bidding costs, then change their conservative creatives. If engagement and conversions are what you’re after, make sure to be bold and experiment with your creatives.
4. Use Skippable In-stream Ads
Another common question YouTube advertisers have is what type of video ad format they should use: in-stream ads (skippable or not), in-feed (formerly discovery) video ads, or bumper ads.
In our experience, everyone hates ads, especially unskippable ads. They are rarely ever effective and tend to annoy your customers, and may even potentially be damaging your brand. There’s a reason why over 25 million people have paid for YouTube’s premium features, allowing them to skip ads entirely. Bumper ads (6 seconds or less) are generally less annoying and more affordable, but use only if you can condense your message to 6 seconds.
What about in-stream vs. in-feed ads? In a mid-2019 survey among global marketing professionals, in-stream skippable ads were considered the most effective ads by 29% of respondents. We tend to agree.
However, this doesn’t mean that there’s no place for in-feed video ads, which appear naturally in YouTube’s search results and other areas. We recommend allocating most of your budget to in-stream ads, and a smaller percentage (10%) to in-feed ads, which require a compelling thumbnail and only play when users click on your ads.
If you have great organic content (especially explainer videos) or other great content that demonstrates your product in use, then in-feed ads work great. This is especially so if you have specific keywords you know customers have used to find your products.
5. Retarget to Reach the Right Audience
If content is king, then retargeting is queen. YouTube’s amazing analytics means you can use retargeting ads, which are super effective at reaching users already primed to purchase your products. If you’ve established a great YouTube channel with awesome videos, then retargeting your organic watchers is a great way to target those who are already open to your brand’s messaging or to highlight a new campaign to those same users.
Another way you can maximize conversions is by retargeting those who’ve already watched or viewed your YouTube ads. After all, your creatives have already captivated them the first time, it doesn’t hurt to get a second reminder. You can also retarget those who have visited your landing page or website (or specific pages or category pages on your site).
Similarly, you can retarget those who have engaged with your YouTube content (organic or paid) by targeting those who have recently subscribed, commented, or liked your videos or channel. Our advice is to not go overboard with retargeting, as you may annoy the user, who may feel like you’re stalking their cookies history online.
6. Do not be too Biased with Demographics
If you don’t have an existing customer email list or extensive website visits, then we recommend experimenting with YouTube’s vast demographic reach.
A common mistake brands make when creating customer profiles or demographics is they tend to be either too broad or too specific. Too broad, and you reduce the quality of your conversions; too specific, and you may not have enough inventory or may be excluding potential new customers.
It’s also very common to introduce unconscious biases into your segmentation, which ultimately hurt your brand’s sales. For example, when I was working with overseas food & beverage companies in Japan, many would create customer profiles that capped their customer ages at 55 or 60 for no reason. However, what they fail to realize is that ⅓ of Japan’s population is over the age of 65, and they are a powerful customer segment that should not be ignored.
It’s also common for brands to segment by gender artificially, for example gaming companies may exclude women, to their loss, as women now make up 45% of gamers.
7. Use Affinity Audiences and In-market Segments
Another common mistake smaller and less experienced brands do is to only take advantage of YouTube’s demographic targeting without carefully researching the type of things their potential customers are interested in, searching for, or are exploring on YouTube.
In fact, the biases introduced in point 5 above can be mitigated easily by keeping the demographic targeting light, and focusing instead on audience interest alone. After all, you’re more likely to capture customers based on what they’re interested in, life events, or what they’re actively in-market searching for, rather than superficial demographic signals.
8. Always Have a Call to Action
Although a call to action is optional, it’s a no-brainer to include one for conversion-driven campaigns. In fact, Google states that “advertisers that follow the best practices for their Video action campaigns drive over 50% more conversions per dollar and see at least 40% higher conversion rates.”
9. Consider Influencer Marketing
We didn’t touch much on influencer marketing in this article, but it is also another powerful way for you to leverage an additional YouTube strategy. Jump shot data also found that influencer marketing conversion rates (2.7%) tend to be higher than paid YouTube advertising (0.5%).
The above are all common-sense recommendations and best practices for those new to YouTube Advertising to maximize conversions. Of course, other optimizations do exist, and Google itself is your best resource for exploring more.
However, the best marketing strategy is often a mixed one that plays off each other. E-commerce and search engine marketers are often myopically focused on keyword and PPC ads, without focusing on the upper end of the marketing funnel.
In our experience, a PPC focused campaign can be great (but tends to be quickly overpriced), so adding YouTube paid and influencer marketing to your ad strategy mix is most effective for driving more conversions and capturing new customers.