How to make money on YouTube

Turn your video productions into money in the bank


YouTube’s DIY videos, and the ready availability of the tools we need to make them, have gone a long way to changing the public perception of visual entertainment. A lofty statement, perhaps, but consider that an estimated 300 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and around four billion videos are viewed on the site daily. Can traditional TV match those numbers?

YouTube pays, too, in a number of ways. Becoming one of its bigger earners isn’t an instant win – you’ll only succeed if you can attract viewers – but there’s money to be made if you’re dedicated and ready to exploit every avenue available. But how do you actually go about that? Listen up for some key pointers.

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1. Build an audience

The first major point, and we cannot stress this enough, is that if nobody is watching your videos, you will not make an appreciable amount of money. Tiny channels with only a few hundred subscribers might make a few pennies per video on ads, but since Google’s AdSense program sets a marker on the amount you must earn before you’re able to withdraw funds, you might never see any of it.

Building an audience means doing several things. First, and most important, is creating regular, attractive content that viewers will return to again and again. Push subscriptions, likes and comments so that YouTube’s algorithm looks favourably on you, and add relevant tags, thumbnails and titles to your video so you stand out from the crowd.

2. Interact

An audience that knows you’re paying attention to them is one which will be attentive in return. As painful as it may be, it makes sense to trawl through your YouTube comments and reply (nicely) to anyone with a question. This will also give you a slight nudge up the YouTube ranking algorithm, so it’s a double win. 

Consider also following and subscribing to similar channels, ideally those with a slightly bigger audience than your own. Getting friendly with the bigger guys will help you get noticed, and if you’re really chummy you may even end up collaborating together – nothing boosts subscriber numbers like a collaboration video aimed at a pre-existing perfect audience.

3. Host ads with AdSense

Google’s primary method of monetising your videos is by showing pre-roll or interstitial ads. You’ll need to register your YouTube account to accept monetisation here, register an AdSense account (follow the guide here), and ensure you click the appropriate check box when uploading your videos. 

Bear in mind that certain content may be against YouTube’s content guidelines – presumably to avoid offending any advertisers – and as such may be denied any ad support. You’ll also run into trouble if you use any copyrighted content, or content identified as such by YouTube’s automated systems – if you do, your revenue will either be swallowed up by the copyright holder, or your video will be blocked.

4. Attract Red subscribers

YouTube Red, the site’s ad-free subscription service, can also help line your pockets. But if you’re going for Red subscribers – and there aren’t a huge number of them as yet – it pays to know that it deals out the money in a slightly different way. Basically, a chunk of that subscription fee is shared between the content creators each viewer likes; if a particular Red subscriber spends a long time watching your content, you’ll get a bigger slice.

Don’t think this means you should be producing two-hour epics every day – that’s a great way to turn off viewers, not engage them – but steer clear of five-second shorts, since they’ll earn you nothing. 

If you’re already registered to receive money via AdSense, you don’t need to do anything more to collect YouTube Red funds. And if you’re a big channel (and you’d have to be a very big channel) perhaps you could join the likes of PewDiePie and Rhett & Link in producing Red-exclusive content…

5. Pick up sponsors and brand deals

Once your channel reaches a certain size, you’ll be eligible to produce paid promotions – properly highlighted, of course, to ensure you don’t fall foul of advertising regulations – which will enable you to pick up a little money outside the purview of YouTube’s internal monetisation schemes. 

If you have a huge channel, advertisers may well come to you to offer a sweet deal. Great! Enjoy your inflated bank balance. In the far more likely event of you not having a channel quite so large, you’ll need to hit the email, pushing appropriate brands to join you. That might not be so easy.

Whichever route you choose, you need to make sure that your brand partnerships are, while obvious, neither dull and overt nor too loose and flaky. Your viewers are the most important thing, and they expect quality content. Don’t deviate from your usual format too far, or they’ll be quickly turned off.

6. Let them pay

A committed audience might also be a generous one, and many content creators subsidise their ad revenue, and fund more elaborate videos, by taking donations from viewers via Patreon. Pushing it too hard or blatantly begging will never work, but letting viewers know at the end of a video that they’re welcome to contribute – and perhaps even rolling the names of some supporters – can be a good way to generate additional funds.

It’s a bit of an aside – we are talking about YouTube here, after all – but Twitch streaming can be valuable if you’re creating gaming-focused content. You can integrate your Twitch account with your YouTube account to inform viewers when you have a stream running, and live engagement with viewers can do wonders for donation income.

7. Merchandise

Don’t underestimate the enthusiasm of a dedicated audience. Get them on side enough and they may well be willing to part with money to advertise your brand for you. Or, at least, they might buy a T-shirt or two. 

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of setting up your own merchandise store there are plenty of options: Spreadshirt will print up shirts on demand and deal with all the stocking and mailing of them, while a service like Big Cartel helps you set up a storefront and leaves the rest to you.

If you’re selling merch, make sure you highlight the fact. Some channels leave links to their wares in video descriptions, others in pre- or post-roll video sections, and some even go as far as making specific videos dedicated to selling their stuff. Consider just how friendly your audience is before you commit to one or the other.