How to Make a Career on YouTube in 11 Easy Steps

Want to create vlogs for a living? This career just might right up your alley.

youtube on a smartphone

Since its launch in 2005, YouTube has evolved from a simple video hosting platform into a social media and marketing behemoth. With 30m daily visitors watching 5bn videos every day, and 300 hours of video being uploaded every minute, the statistics are absolutely staggering; with this kind of exposure – and the monetization opportunities that come with it – it’s no wonder that a growing number of users have decided to make a living off of it.

You’ll need more than a video camera and an interesting topic to be successful though. To be a professional YouTuber, you need to be a jack of all trades, and this means understanding the basics of SEO and online marketing techniques as well as how to create and produce good content.

Luckily the rewards are worth the effort; the top 13 YouTube stars earned over $54m between them in 2015. So if this sounds like it could be the career path for you, then check out these essential tips to help you on your way.

1. Define Your Success

For some people, running a vlog is just a means to talk about their interest in make-up or model train sets with friends. Getting a few hundred followers who offer some thoughts and opinions is a nice bonus, but essentially the goal is just to have a bit of fun.

That’s fine of course, but for people looking to make it a profession, success is defined in more serious terms. Before you start, you need to be clear what your own definition of success is, and understand what will be required to achieve it. Set yourself realistic targets (for example, 50 subscribers by the end of the month) and continually measure your progress against your goals.

2. Research Keywords

The first thing any aspiring vlogger should know is that good content is useless if nobody is watching it. As we’ve already alluded to, there is a LOT of material being uploaded to the site – and all of it is competing for views. Therefore, to be seen, you need to understand how keywords work.

Like Google, YouTube’s search algorithm is designed to return results that it thinks are the most suitable for the searcher’s intent. And also like Google, it has tools that show you this data. Take the time to understand the importance of this, as it should be the cornerstone of your whole marketing strategy. Once you know what people are looking for, you can create your content accordingly.

Researching keywords is as much an art as it is a science though, and you need to understand how the tools work and what you should be looking for before you start building that strategy. There are a lot of complex nuances involved, so ensure you take the time to research it.

3. Know Your Competition

Watching what your competitors are doing is important – not just to get an understanding of what you’re up against, but because it can be a positive learning process. Ask yourself what you like about what they do, and what you don’t like. What could you do better? How can you differentiate yourself, and put your own angle on something?

Don’t just copy what other people are doing though. You should be comparing your own work against your peers, not trying to replicate it. “If you’re the needle in a haystack, it’s difficult to stand out,” claims YouTube star Street Light. “Don’t just follow a trend, or you’ll get lost in the crowd”.

4. Content, Content, Content

Which brings us to the bread and butter of your YouTube venture. While the marketing and the technical side of things is vital to building viewers and subsequently your success, the content of your videos is what will always be there, and what people will always judge you on.

Nobody can tell you what will be successful here and what won’t; after all, watching somebody else play video games might sound boring to many people, but it earned Felix Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie) $15m in 2015 alone. As a rule though, your content should always be fresh, unique, and valuable to the viewer in one way or another.

Production Quality

The importance of the production value depends on your niche; there are successful YouTubers who use nothing more than a webcam and Windows Movie Maker. But remember that you are on a visual platform, and the more professional your videos look, the more impressed people will be. As you get more successful, you can invest in better video production hardware and editing tools, but in the meantime make sure you’re well lit, easy to understand and there is a context to the setting.

Sponsorship and Advertising

When you have built up a loyal following, you can also promote and advertise products directly (for example, a make-up channel recommending a particular brand or product). This is known as “influencing” and is popular on several social media platforms. Companies and marketing agencies recognize that this is an effective way of targeting younger audiences, and these sponsorship and advertising deals generally make up the bulk of a YouTuber’s income. If you are serious about making money, you need to focus on trying to attain these deals – this may mean tailoring some of your content.


In terms of your general content strategy, the best approach is to be consistent. Social media expert Rob Nightingale claims that people are more likely to subscribe to channels if they know what they’re going to expect. “If your audience love your rants, publish a rant on the same day each week,” he says. “Keep people looking forward to that next episode, knowing they won’t have too long to wait”.

5. Don’t Neglect SEO

By ensuring that your content is fresh, unique and regular, you’re already taking care of some of the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) work. The real value is in the metadata though (the information and description section underneath the video). Make sure you put your keywords in all the right places, use links wisely and don’t make silly mistakes like forgetting to allow embedding on your videos (how else are people going to share them?)

SEO can be a complex nut to crack if you have no prior knowledge of it, so again – do your research and ensure you have a basic understanding of how it works, and how it can benefit your chances of getting more exposure.

6. Establish Relationships

If you’ve done steps 2, 4 and 5 right, your videos will start getting organic views. To propel your viewing figures to the next level though, you’ll need a helping hand or two. This is where it becomes important to build relationships with famous and established YouTubers.

Even just a mention from the right channel can make or break your chances of success. Gamer Sean McLoughlin (aka Jacksepticeye) got his break in 2013 when he was referenced in a PewDiePie video; he now has nearly 15m subscribers.

Look for channels that are relevant to yours, and offer incentives (either money or a product) for the owners of those channels to give you exposure – ideally in a way that makes sense for their own audience and format.

7. Utilise Social Media

Your focus might be on building your YouTube following, but this doesn’t mean you should ignore other social media platforms – or the potential viewers they could send to your channel. Twitter particularly is a highly effective platform on which to spread the word about your vlog, with the added bonus that you can embed and share your videos too.

Having a presence across social media builds awareness of your brand, so take the time to create profiles on all the big platforms. Digg and StumbleUpon are also recommended.

8. Use Featured Videos

Sometimes it can be a good idea to submit your video to YouTube’s “Featured Videos” section. It costs money, but it’ll be seen by a lot of people in a short space of time, and once the video takes off, the organic traffic will follow. Therefore, you should only submit videos that you are very confident people will like.

9. Presentation

To round everything off, you need a brand identity that is recognisable and consistent through all your output. Depending on your resources, you can do this yourself, or you can pay a graphic designer to create something on your behalf; the important thing is that it is easily recognisable and relevant to your niche.

Your logo and your banner should be on your social media profiles too – your online presence needs to be connected and recognisable. You can even watermark the logo on your video if your editing software allows it.

Don’t just focus on the images either; make sure your description links are all working correctly and there are no silly spelling or grammar errors.

10. Rinse and Repeat

Don’t rest on your laurels – go through the whole process again. Redefine your next goals; continue to research keywords and build your content around them. As you get more successful you can introduce subtle new touches in your production. Continue to build and cultivate new and existing relationships with other YouTubers, and keep fine-tuning your SEO techniques every few months or so. Scale your advertising and re-invest on making your channel even bigger and better.

11. Be Patient

This is probably the biggest difference between those that make it and those that give up early on – patience. At all steps of the process you should remember that success won’t come to you overnight – you have to build it up slowly over time. Many of the most successful YouTubers were posting videos for years before they started to become profitable.

Don’t worry so much about trying to go viral. For long-term success, focus on building up a hub of videos where your personality shines through and people can understand what you’re about. Slowly but gradually, you will attract more people to your channel and these will be loyal followers who will stick around, as opposed to fleeting visitors.

And that’s it. Naturally, there are a lot of intricacies and complex nuances involved in growing a YouTube channel; especially one that can attract millions of subscribers. But this list contains all the key steps you will need to take.

Just be realistic with your expectations. It’ll take you a long time to get to the point where you are earning a multi-million dollar salary like JennaMarbles or the Fine brothers, but even low-level vloggers can make enough to live comfortably. It all depends on finding the right niche and angle – something nobody can teach. Keep in mind though that every self-made YouTube star was once a total beginner with just a camera and an internet connection; internet riches are not beyond the realms of possibility for anyone.

Are you trying to make it big on YouTube? Let us know your experiences in the comments below…