Why some Youtube channels crush it while others get left behind
Yet again I was asked the same question I get at every subscriber meetup “Why do you think your channel was so successful?”.
I’ve been asked this question numerous times before. I stood still. I was caught off guard and was trying to think on my feet in front of 500+ young Russians in an auditorium at Moscow State University. The attendees were just a few of my 1.2 million Youtube subscribers who had come to meet me in person and listen to me host a Q&A about my life in Russia, answer questions about learning English, and take an obligatory selfie for the gram.
I never knew how to answer the “What makes your channel successful?” question. This both bothered me and motivated me to seek out and understand why channels like mine grow and see success, while at the same time other hard-working creators with presentation and editing skills far beyond mine get stuck, burnt out, and eventually give up on Youtube.
I looked out over the audience before turning my head back to the girl holding the microphone, waiting for my answer, and said to her:
“Success on Youtube, like any other endeavor, comes with hard work. You need to choose a topic that you’re sincerely interested in because your primary goal should be to enjoy the process of creating videos, not focus on how much you can earn.”
Yes — this answer was a total cop-out. I felt guilty inside. I was just repeating the same fluff that anyone can find with a simple Google search, yet it’s all that came to mind.
It wasn’t until a year later that I really started to analyze successful channels in an effort to discover patterns that could explain why some people crush it on Youtube, while others never reap the fruits of their labor. These analyses led me to discover a v-shaped channel structure that many successful channels share.
The V-Shaped Structure
Here’s a quick illustration I put together to help guide us through this little tutorial. Judge me by my words, not my poor drawing skills.
Many, but not all, Youtube channels that find great success follow the v-shape. We’ll break the shape down into three parts: A, B, and C.
Part A — The Wide, Attractive Niche
The top of the V is wide and all-encompassing. This represents a widespread, popular topic like fitness, education, or self-help (just to name a few). Many successful channels first and foremost fall into one of these categories.
Although it’s possible for channels with hyper-niched topics to exist and maintain an audience of highly loyal followers, their total subscriber count often remains small. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Depending on the creator’s goals; channel growth might not be a priority. Their channel may simply serve as a knowledge base to regularly deliver content to their loyal group of viewers.
Part B — The Niche Within a Niche.
Successful Youtube channels often find a unique niche within their larger channel topic. As an example, Jeff Cavalier — the previous head physical therapist for the NY Mets and creator of the Athlean-X Youtube channel — found incredible success by “niching-down” within the world of fitness channels by providing highly informed, science-backed explanations of exercises and workouts.
Athlean X’s tagline “Putting the science back in strength” purported a philosophy that immediately separated Jeff from the ocean of “bro-vlogging” jocks that dominated the fitness industry on Youtube before him.
However, a unique niche doesn’t necessarily lead to massive channel growth and an army of loyal followers. In order to find great success amongst a saturated sea of Youtube channels, your unique niche itself must also be extremely attractive to its original wide, parent audience.
Part C — It doesn’t stop at the niche
Part C is the crux of our equation. It is quite difficult to find a niche that’s both nested within a wide and popular topic that also appeals en mass to the majority of people who watch videos on the original parent topic. That’s a real mouthful, so let me explain this again with Athlean-X. Jeff Cavalier’s science-backed approach to fitness wasn’t just unique, but more importantly, in line with a desire held by most people — to safely perform and understand the theory behind the exercises we do. Jeff was certainly not the first fitness expert to preach about the science behind exercise, but he was the first one to do it well on Youtube — giving him a competitive edge that when combined with his catchy titles and ripped-body resumé, saw his channel soar to success.
But what about my channel?
Let’s sum the v-shape theory and look at how it applies to my own Youtube channel.
My Youtube channel (Джастин), is predominantly focused on two types of content: 1) English lessons for Russian-speakers, and 2) sharing my thoughts and opinions on Russian language and culture through the eyes of a foreigner. We’re going to focus on the first topic.
Part A: My Wide, Attractive Niche
My wide, general topic that my channel falls into is teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). ESL teaching is a majorly popular topic on Youtube and there are thousands of channels doing it. Right away, my channel checks off the first box for popularity and growth since there is a huge audience of people wanting to learn English.
Part B: The Niche Within a Niche
Next, a channel must niche within the umbrella of its parent topic. In the case of my channel, I speak entirely in Russian in my videos and explain concepts to students in their own native language. Back when I started my channel, I was literally the only non-native Russian speaker on Youtube doing a channel in Russian.
Part C: It doesn’t stop at the niche
A channel’s unique niche must also appeal to a wide audience. Being a native English speaker that explains concepts in Russian immediately sets my channel apart from the thousands of other English teachers online. In fact, I often get requested to make videos in English, but I never do. I know that if I make videos in English, then I’ll be just another one of the thousands of other English-teaching Youtubers who, frankly speaking, are probably much better than me at teaching.
Because I tackle ESL from a super unique angle that nobody else does, I was able to set myself apart from all the other English teachers in a way that is massively appealing to the sum of 200+ million Russian-speakers on the planet; the majority of whom have a strong desire to learn English.
Let’s wrap this up …
I love and respect every person who wakes up in the morning, sets aside their fears, and hits the record button on a camera knowing that what they’re about to say and do will be watched by thousands of strangers on the internet. Never knowing what the reaction to your video will be, who will watch it, what people will say in the comments — these are all incredibly daunting for a Youtuber, especially a new one.
There are certainly many other factors that contribute to a channel’s success — production quality, strategic use of titles and thumbnails, video structures that encourage retention, etc. but none of these factors will boost a channel’s popularity if the core subject niche of that channel isn’t widely popular to the masses at the end of the day.
If you’re new to Youtube and looking to build up your audience, then I hope but a sliver of this article will leave you feeling inspired and motivated to press on. If you’re already established on Youtube, then be sure to share in the comments below what other tips and tricks you can share to help our fellow Youtubers build up their growth and momentum.
*Note: I write about travel, minimalism, and design. If you like my writing and are interested in content for your site or blog, feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org