7 important YouTube Ads lessons you need to learn
Trying to figure out why your YouTube Ads results aren’t better? Here are key lessons from years of running video campaigns.
Assuming what works on one platform will work on another is a common digital marketing mistake.
I see it in advertising all the time – someone who gets excellent results from search struggles with social, and vice versa.
And then there’s YouTube.
Not truly search and not fully social, it’s a platform where you compete against organic content for attention and time.
The same keyword can have a dozen different intents or none at all. And the placement of your ad is more critical than ever.
To master YouTube takes a deep understanding of your audience’s challenges and desires, plus how, when and why they use the platform.
Here are seven important YouTube Ads lessons I had to learn the difficult – and expensive – way so you hopefully don’t need to.
1. YouTube is not truly social
Facebook and Instagram spoiled advertisers by letting them show ads, get clicks, and make sales. The targeting was effective, highly condensing the sales cycle.
But I think it is mainly driven by a consumer’s frame of mind while on these platforms.
You’re bored, scrolling and looking to be entertained.
So when you see an ad that catches your attention, you’ll likely run through a checkout process quickly. Perhaps right away or within 24 hours – typically within seven days.
On the other hand, YouTube users are more in a Netflix or fix-it mode. You’re watching content or learning how to do things.
And with Shorts, there’s an endless scrolling component like TikTok. (But even TikTok doesn’t convert as well as Facebook and Instagram.)
With YouTube Ads, you’re feeding the funnel and creating awareness.
Your ads put your brand on people’s radars but are much less likely to convert immediately. It can take a while and require larger budgets.
2. YouTube is also not fully search
When people think of YouTube Ads, they typically think of the videos that appear before, during and after content.
There are also text ads that appear above a YouTube search results page, which come from Search campaigns that have opted into Search Partners targeting, as well as Discovery and Performance Max campaigns. They aren’t the focus of this article, but their presence is relevant.
Unlike other paid social channels, YouTube allows you to target people based on something they searched for recently.
You can create an audience around keywords, and anybody who searches for a certain keyword will be placed into that audience.
However, they’re not searching for that thing right then. Yes, they might be interested, but they’re not in-market or actively searching. This means search intent on YouTube carries lag or has even expired.
That’s to say nothing of the risk of intent being off.
When someone searches for [marathon training plan] in Google, keyword intent indicates there’s a good chance they will need products such as running shoes, compression garments, fitness wearables, etc.
Instead, the same query on YouTube might lead to a Shorts link about what a creator ate in preparation for their marathon, or it might be for a specific video based on its title or content.
There’s no way to be sure of intent. This is why I suggest you view YouTube as a consideration and awareness channel rather than a conversion-focused one.
In other words, the “next step” from YouTube has to be compelling.
3. Don’t neglect the organic side
I’m bullish on digital advertising, but I believe the best results come from brands with strong organic presence.
A strong organic YouTube presence across Shorts and standard videos means there’s something for people to enjoy if they end up on your channel.
Answering questions, partnering with influencers in your product space, and seeding your Shorts with semi-promotional content can shorten that funnel instead of just running ads and nothing else.
Your ad campaign’s views and metrics also count toward your overall channel metrics.
It works together, and sometimes, when you run an ad campaign, it helps you increase your organic lift because people watch your other content.
They subscribe to your channel and share your videos, which feed the algorithm.
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4. Do everything to safeguard your brand
One of the biggest concerns for any advertiser on YouTube is maintaining brand integrity.
How do we make sure our client and employer brands don’t show up on content or channels they don't want to be associated with?
In the settings, you can choose "sensitive categories" of content to exclude at the campaign level.
For standard video action campaigns, you can provide targeting for audiences and interests – content-based targeting using keywords, topics, and placements has been discontinued.
But you can create audience exclusions for those who should not see your ads based on several qualifiers.
For example, you might want to exclude recent purchasers or a cohort by age or gender.
5. Never set it and forget it
I find Google's automation largely beneficial, but I always monitor my campaigns so nothing's left to chance.
Even with targeting set up perfectly, you might get in front of people with no interest in your offering. Any additional information I can provide will improve the system.
PPC agency Leadocity recently ran a video campaign that bypassed some of their targeting exclusions.
It only occurred on their video campaigns and only with optimized targeting enabled.
App and display campaigns were unaffected, as were video campaigns that weren’t opted in to optimized targeting.
The only way to opt out was to contact their Google Ads rep and be whitelisted from the program.
This is another example where Google and advertisers might come into conflict. Google knows its product well, but advertisers know what our accounts and clients need.
With several changes to how video targeting and placements work, I know a lot of folks will miss those capabilities – myself included.
But it is what it is. We have to adapt if we want to keep running profitable campaigns.
My advice: Use bulk app exclusions if you need to. Enter "mobileappcategory::69500" in placement exclusions.
6. Take advantage of clear and useful data
Even as someone who doesn't like to complain about Google’s choices, I admit the shortage of data in the search terms report is limiting.
That’s why I truly appreciate the level of detail available in video campaign analytics.
Video assets served through a Performance Max campaign won't have this much detail, but regular YouTube campaigns show detailed placement reports, consumer audiences, gender and demographics.
It’s more robust than many other campaign reports and quite detailed. You can see what app a user was on when they clicked your ad and what video or channel they watched on YouTube.
Use that data to make better decisions on creative, placements, budgets, and more.
7. Give it a role in your marketing media mix
Like all channels, YouTube deserves a place in your marketing strategy that's more nuanced than "we can spend money here."
Not only does it function best as part of a wider mix, it rarely does well by itself.
Running ads on YouTube without presence anywhere else will probably achieve very little.
Even a major brand with incredibly good SEO can count those two assets in their favor.
If all other things equal between two products, people will probably buy the one they’ve seen in other places (paid and organic).
Once you’ve saturated those other channels – Search, Shopping, Performance Max, paid social – you'll probably start looking for a new place to spend your budget.
For ecommerce, that will typically revolve around your top products and bestsellers.
Building on something at that stage means you know what you want to promote based on what’s been selling elsewhere.
When YouTube does more harm than good
There are two scenarios where I would classify YouTube Ads as more risk than reward.
- When your budget is small. You’re probably better off waiting until you get a larger amount to work with. You will get limited results on YouTube and spread the other campaign types too thin, restricting yourself on two fronts.
- When you don’t have the right type and quality of creatives. Remember, the consumer is in "entertain me" or "teach me" mode, so your ad needs to have the same pattern interrupt.
It’s like the video hook that you push for on paid social but even stronger because you have three seconds until they skip it.
Often, even long-form videos can work well – if you can capture and sustain their attention with a good story or content.
Compellingly capturing an audience's attention requires knowing what they’re watching and what works.
Until you know what that looks like, focus your budget on where it can best impact your business.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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