The YouTube Creator Playbook, Part 1: The First 15 Seconds

The YouTube Creator Playbook, Part 1: The First 15 Seconds

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About a month ago, YouTube released the YouTube Creator Playbook. It’s a step-by-step guide to follow when creating your content and searching for viewers. In the next few weeks, we will attempt to break down the entire playbook one section at a time. With over 790 million unique visitors, it is second only to Facebook, and all YouTube does is video. People go there to do one thing, and one thing only: watch video. If your video doesn’t stand out, they have literally millions of other options. How do you make your video attractive to a lot of viewers? YouTube has the answer, and it begins with the first 15 seconds.

In broad terms, the YouTube Creator Playbook says this:

Strategy: Make the beginning of your videos compelling to the viewer

Why It Works: Attention spans are short. Hook viewers right from the start and increase engagement for the entire length of the video.

How to Do It: Accomplished through production and show structure.

This Better Be Good, And Fast

Flipping over to the next section, the Playbook says to accomplish this, you need to worry about content first, and branding and packaging later. In the first 15 seconds, the content must be compelling and the viewer must know exactly what he or she is watching or else they are likely to click on to the next video. So how do you make sure when they click on your video, they’ll stick around?

Get to know the art of the “tease.” If you have compelling content, give the viewer a taste. News programs have been doing this for many years. You see the day’s stories and they ask questions in which you might want the answers: “A movie theater is being built on Main Street…find out why some locals are hopping mad about it.”

There are a great many movies and TV shows out there that begin with their main character in some sort of dire straits as the opening of the program. Then, at a crucial moment, they cut to “5 hours earlier.” Now, we want to know how that character got into such a bad situation. If the show had “cold-opened” to some boring part of their day and there wasn’t any real compelling action for awhile, they may lose a lot of people right off the bat. Web video is no different.

Take a look at a show the Playbook highlights in this section, Jake and Amir. They tell a new joke at the beginning of each episode:

Reviewing the Playbook: Compelling Content First

The first thing the viewer sees should be compelling,whether it is the personality or the content of the video

Personalities should address/welcome the audience, ask a question, spark the viewer’s curiosity, tease the rest of the video.

Use a “teaser” for the content of the video; start with a quick clip of what’s to come later in the video.

You Can Look Flashy Later

So after you do this, then you start branding and packaging. These are the unique details to your show that people will come to recognize as you put out more content. Branding tends to refer to your logo, or snappy opening intro, while packaging refers to the structure of the show or how it is presented, but both work to give your show distinction.

The Playbook says 5 seconds of branding and packaging is all you need, so don’t go overboard on graphics when you should be providing content, aka, a reason to watch. You can even make content out of your branding/packaging. I think about those little texts that pop up on Ray William Johnson’s viral video show, usually making fun of the host. That’s packaging with content.

Focus on this minimal amount of branding in the first few seconds from The Philip DeFranco Show, a news opinion and commentary show that the Playbook highlights. If you stay around to watch the rest of the episode, note how he keeps it snappy. There are a bunch of jump cuts every 3-4 seconds so that we don’t see him stumble or ponder too long and cause you to leave the video. It’s all content:

Reviewing the Playbook: Packaging And Branding

Branding, flashy intros, and packaging can create a professional quality to your content, but it’s not the star of the video.

Let the content or personality be the star upfront; then the viewer has a reason to watch past the intro and continue with the video.

Or you can make sure the branding is compelling content that the viewer is entertained by. For example, Jake and Amir’s opening branding features a different joke each video; their packaging is the content.

Packing and branding should be minimal and short. We’ve found 5 seconds to be optimal length.

What In The World Is This?

When all of this is said and done, the viewer should know what they’re watching. You can’t leave them in the dark too long, or they’ll leave you. In the first 15 seconds I should know what genre this video is: comedy, news, drama, action, horror, etc.

Here’s an excellent intro from vsauce, which in the first 15 seconds tells you exactly what you need to know and what you’re about to watch:

Reviewing the Playbook: What Am I Watching?

In a lot of cases of non-fiction programming, it is important to make clear to your viewers what your video is, and what they’ll be watching. If the viewer still doesn’t know exactly what they’re watching in the start of the video, they’re gone.

Analysis and Experimentation

You might not get it in the first episode, or the second, or all the way up to the tenth, but you somehow need to figure out what is and isn’t working with your audience. For this, YouTube has another great tool: Insight. Insight is a remarkable tool that tells you your views/popularity, demographics, how much you engage (get people to comment or like your videos), how people found your video, and the ultimate tool, Hot Spot. Hot Spot tells you where people are liking your video best, where they rewind it, and where you might ultimately lose them. You get to see what’s working and what’s not, and then for the future, you can start tailoring it to your audience’s needs. When you use the Playbook and Insight together, it’s like having keys to people’s hearts and minds. Just don’t use it for evil. I think it specifically forbids evil.

All of this is for naught if your content isn’t compelling. Yeah, you have to have some talent, that’s the dirty secret. If you follow all of these directions and have videos of paint drying, it won’t work. I’m quite sure Insight would tell you how bad your paint-drying videos are connecting with viewers, though. And in that case, you’ll know pretty quickly to stop posting them and trying something else.

Reviewing the Playbook: How-To Steps

Understand the Engagement and Viewing Trends of Your Content

  • Use tools available in Insight to better understand how your videos are performing in terms of engagement and attention spans. Short attention spans, “drop-offs,” or low Hot Spot performance at the beginning of the video reflect a need to optimize the first 15 seconds of the video(s).

Determine the Right “Hook” or Opening for Your Content and Audience

  • All content is different so determine the best use of the beginning of your videos. Depending on your category, content, and current engagement trends, your approach to the beginning of your videos will vary.

Experiment with Variations

  • Try different approaches and see what works best to keep people watching your video and decrease early abandonment.

Place Compelling Content First

  • Whatever approach you take, the first 15 seconds of your video needs to be compelling, engrossing, or entertaining enough to get your viewers to commit to continue watching the rest of the video.

And that’s what Insight is for, to experiment and find what ultimately works. And just think, this is just the first 15 seconds of the video! YouTube has many more steps in the Playbook, which we’ll be covering over the next few weeks.


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