With both its long-tail discoverability and potential to educate clients about in-depth features, the YouTube platform offers some incredible benefits for B2B companies. And yet, surprisingly, YouTube is one of the most frequently overlooked social media platforms when it comes to building a successful B2B marketing funnel.

To be sure, YouTube is no longer the only social media platform for posting native video – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter now all have their video offerings. On these platforms, though, organic views are all about “the feed,” meaning that for a short period of time after you post the video, it will be shown in the feed of some percentage of your followers, depending on factors such as the Facebook algorithm or whether a user accessed their account during the window of time a video might have appeared. Of course, a feed-based distribution strategy can be successful for gaining significant “Day One” views, the non-paid viewership that occurs when you first upload the video. And, certainly, well-targeted paid campaigns can also be quite effective in the feeds.

But social video is not all about the feed, and for B2B, this distinction is key. B2B companies generally have higher-ticket items and longer sales cycles than B2C. During this extended period, clients will research their future partners as much as they can in multiple ways. Naturally, they will go to Google and YouTube to do their research, and can end up watching multiple videos about the products. And while on Facebook almost all views from a given week will be of your latest video, on YouTube, almost all of your views from a given week will be of your “greatest hits,” the old videos.

YouTube Long-tail Marketing: The Four S’s

Instead of being a feed-based social network, traffic on YouTube essentially comes from the four S’s: Sharing, Suggesting, Searching, and Subscribing. Potential B2B clients find YouTube videos about products, for the most part, because of one of the following factors:

  1. Sharing: They were directed off-platform via a direct link or from the company, the media, a salesperson directly, or a friend or influencer.
  2. Suggesting: They saw the video in the “suggested videos” column on the right-hand side of the page another YouTube video was on.
  3. Searching: They find them by searching on YouTube or Google.
  4. Subscribing: They subscribe to channels based on their interests and/or personalities, and those channels talked about the products.

#1 Encourage Video Sharing: YouTube & Beyond

youtube sharing featureCertainly if you can get B2B blogs and influencers to post a link to your YouTube videos, you should do so. Outside parties particularly like to post announcement videos and short interviews (under four minutes) that feature industry superstars. A video is a great complement to any press release, and when reaching out to technical bloggers, the short, how-to video can get you some embeds and link-love.

But to take advantage of the YouTube long-tail, what about embedding the videos on your company’s own website and blog? This is one of the best ways of driving relevant traffic, and it affirms the YouTube video’s relevance by embedding it within a page chock full of SEO-empowered text. And don’t forget to link to the video from your email newsletter (just do a link, please – embedding video in email is a no-no).

#2 Boost Suggested CTR with a Great Thumbnail

It seems counterintuitive, but after direct links and embeds, most YouTube views come as a result of being related to other videos. And one of the most important ways to get more “suggested videos” from your own channel showing up in the right-hand column is to have proper custom thumbnails. My gurus in this area are superstars Jeremy Vest of VidPow and Matt Gielen of Frederator Networks, who after countless A-B tests have found that the best thumbnails include very tight close-ups of faces, usually looking directly at the camera, in a way that you can see the whites of their eyes and their teeth. Personally, I’ve found photos of people who are speaking with an expressive face to be very effective.

Your thumbnails can also benefit from a “branding stripe” running the full height of the left-hand side of the image. This is key because it makes them stick out in the suggested videos column. Remember, most people see these images very small (at just 120×68 pixels, to be exact), so the image has to pop.

The image below is a good example of a custom thumbnail: uniform branding stripe on left, close-up face, looking at the camera, eyes and teeth visible, expressive face, speaking mid-sentence. We wonder what he’s saying, so we’ll click. Note that it will still look intriguing at roughly 120×68, which is how many people will see it.

youtube custom thumbnail example

Additionally, playlists are essential to driving suggested videos, because YouTube looks to playlists to understand which videos are related. There’s practically no limit to how many playlists you can create, and a single video can be in many playlists. Playlists take almost no time to create, and of course drive continuous views as well, so a good playlist strategy is essential in any YouTube long-tail marketing campaign.

#3 Understand YouTube and Google Search Factors

YouTube Search: YouTube is the second largest search engine after its parent Google. And while you’ll often get a YouTube video result embedded into your Google search results, videos will actually get more traffic directly from searching on YouTube.com.

Contrary to popular belief, videos are not ranked in YouTube search by how many views they get. Rather, the algorithm looks for how long the videos encourage people to stay on the YouTube.com platform. So to succeed, B2B marketers must pay close attention to key metrics, such as how long people are watching individual videos and which videos are referring additional views back to the same channel. If you’re still shooting and editing your videos using the same methods perfected for television, you’ll benefit by using YouTube analytics to take stock of what’s working and what isn’t, and use those learnings to structure the video content more appropriately for the YouTube audience. It will benefit your brand’s visibility across the board.

Google Search: As I said, often a YouTube video will come up in your Google search results. But how does Google archive the info from its friend YouTube? Well, title, tags, and description all help. After all, Google can only index video by text and code, so for SEO purposes, the metadata around the video is actually more important than what is shown within the video. Additionally, doing an optional closed-caption transcript will help Google better identify the content, because while YouTube’s automated transcription technology is getting better, it’s still comically inaccurate at times. These transcripts help both the Google and YouTube search engines determine the content.

#4 YouTube Long-tail Success: Subscriber Growth

Generally, subscribers – which are the “likes” and “follows” of YouTube – are very valuable to gaining targeted views. From my own research, an organic video can expect, on average, about 15% views per subscriber (without other influences). So a channel with 1,000 subscribers can generally expect about 150 views per video.

Thus it’s important to encourage your potential client base to subscribe to your YouTube channel in every way you encourage them to follow you on other social media platforms – via your website, email, etc. And, importantly, get them to subscribe via clickable links in your videos and descriptions. Then, each time they find themselves on YouTube.com, they will be more likely to have your videos automatically promoted to them. They may also receive email updates from YouTube as well.

One caveat: YouTube subscribers tend to skew younger, which could leave out some of the older decision makers of your B2B clients. Even today, some tech-savvy people who watch YouTube videos still don’t even realize that you can subscribe to YouTube channels, or what a “YouTube channel” actually is. But don’t let this discourage you – each subscriber you get will give you an advantage over your competitors.

Bonus Tip: Re-optimize Your Video Content Every Month

YouTube is a hybrid platform. With its high sharability, it’s more like Facebook or Twitter. But with its long-term discoverability, its behavior for driving B2B leads can be more like a content-marketing blog. This is because once a video finds a place in a search engine, it will stay there, and the video can be a primary traffic driver to other content pieces or as a top lead conversion source.

But results can always be tweaked and improved, sometimes dramatically. We’re seeing this with blogs and top marketing companies like HubSpot are starting new divisions in charge of in-depth upgrades to “back catalog” blog posts, optimizing them in ways that improve SEO, conversion rate, and referral traffic.

These blog optimization specialists take content that they’ve already invested a lot of money in, and go back and squeeze more juice out of them, sometimes doubling the lead generation rate they were getting previously. The same should be done with YouTube on a monthly basis: Taking assets you’ve already invested a lot of money in creating and re-optimizing them using a data-driven approach, taking into account the key analytics, trends and best practices. The result can be a significant increase of your ROI.

Each of your top videos should be audited and optimized (if data warrants it) once per quarter. If you’re a channel with a back catalog of hundreds of videos, for instance, and you want to focus on the top 200 videos, we recommend reviewing one-third of the greatest hits each month, then track how YouTube and Google re-index them over a several week period, then repeat the process each month.

So B2B companies – it’s time to take another look at your YouTube strategy. You may be surprised what is possible in the long tail.