This article is part of my ongoing YouTube Articles and Guides series.
In this post, I want to talk about an aspect of YouTube that affects you from Day 1 for the total duration of your presence on this platform: Numbers. It is focused around YouTube, but might be relevant to anyone who is focusing too much on numbers with any other project.
Subscribers, Total Views, Likes and Comment Counts. Supposedly, they are the numbers that define success and failure. Especially subscriber counts seem to be the golden metric that everyone looks at first. We work towards subscriber milestones and even create subscriber specials when we reach them.
This focus on that number leads to an unhealthy obsession. Having obsessed over these figures and having suffered under the self-imposed stress that this habit brings with it, I feel it is important to talk about this topic.
So what is the problem with these numbers?
The golden metric? Subscribers
The subscriber count can give you an idea of your current channel growth, but it is misleading to equate your subscriber number with success.
Viewers subscribe to channels for particular kinds of content, which includes the personality of the channel owner. Having a lot of subscribers does not mean, that the channel generates enough views to be sustainable or that the subscribers are even still active. A good example are many Minecraft channels, which exploded in size based on a single game. Eventually, the game lost the appeal to the creators, and they switched to other games. As soon as that switch occurred, the views dropped. To sustain themselves, they have to produce Minecraft content. Switching to other games is nearly like starting over again. Channels with over a million subscribers can get abysmal views, even though most people would consider a channel with that amount of subscribers a success.
What you need to keep in mind is, that this number is just an indicator. We often obsess so much over it, that we feel like we are doing something wrong if that figure drops below previous levels (and it always will eventually).
We tend to check these numbers every day, often several times. Maybe we have a life subscriber count open in a window at all times. But why are we doing this? We are trying to get our quick fix.
Just like checking the likes on our Facebook posts, we seek validation. Getting a subscriber gives us that little boost and makes us feel good about yourself. If we get more, we get excited. If we break previous records, we get ecstatic. What we don’t realize is, is that we don’t have any direct control over these numbers.
Checking in on our subscriber count doesn’t generate new subscribers. It doesn’t produce content; it doesn’t help you rank. But we still constantly check these numbers. Not only are we trying to get our fix, but we are also creating an unhealthy habit, that is difficult to break. I had times where I woke up in the morning and the first thing I did, was to check my stats on my phone before I even had my first coffee.
If my channel grew increasingly, I was happy. If it did not grow as strongly (but still really well), I felt bummed out and started to stress about, what I could differently. I thought, that making more videos meant I could keep this growth going, being disappointed when I couldn’t. I started to feel horrible, that I apparently didn’t do enough or my content was not good enough to make my channel grow exponentially. Staying at a linear curve wasn’t good enough anymore. I always needed to beat my previous score.
A big part of YouTube is luck, just like so many other endeavors. Just because you work harder, doesn’t mean you will automatically see success. Relying on luck also means, that if you are not successful, it doesn’t mean, you haven’t done enough. Everyone has their theory of why they are successful, pointing to various things that worked out well for them and their techniques. If you look long enough, you will almost always find someone, that achieved similar success by doing things completely differently. There is no one correct way to be successful. (There are things to help you increase your odds of success, but that’s all.)
Especially when channels are smaller, they tend to focus a lot on subscribers. Of course, it is a great moment to reach your first 100 subscribers, especially if they start seeing a community emerge. But that’s all it should be – a great milestone to pat yourself on the back.
Views, View, Views
Views allow you to compare the performance of videos directly and seeing loyalty rates in series. But even these numbers are misleading, given that a video can rank for numbers of reasons, not only the first in the series. Seeing one video do worse than another has probably less to do with you creating better or worse content and more in the interest of people.
Sometimes a video gets a lot of views because it gets suggested with certain search terms that don’t even relate to the content in your videos. It is important to look at your traffic sources and watch time when you look at views. Views by themselves are merely an indicator, not the only number when you want to figure out how successful a video is.
Realtime is an even worse offender than your subscriber numbers or view count. You can directly compare your performance of the last 48 hours. You start to obsess over individual views, which are out of your control. You might see a spike in a video, maybe because it is getting shared, perhaps because YouTube is suggesting it somewhere. An hour later the views drop and you feel horrible about that. You panic and try to change keywords, or you rework descriptions, even though the views could fall for a variety of reasons. Maybe the audience, interested in the sort of content, is sleeping now. In my opinion, it is best to avoid real-time views for performance and only give it a look every once in a while to get an idea, when to best release your videos. (Release them when you have the most views during the day.)
Imagine you had a job in which you could see your actual performance in real time. You might have had times during the day, you were particularly productive and will feel great about yourself. Now imagine you are tired and exhausted from working so hard and you see your performance drop. It won’t make you perform better; it will just make you feel horrible, even though you did all you could. Frantically trying to work harder will most likely just suck your spirit out of you.
Total views don’t tell you anything about a channel or your performance. It’s a cool number to look at every blue moon, and it can give you an indication what someone might have earned over the course of his YouTube career in ad revenue, but other than that, it’s probably the most useless number of the bunch.
The number of comments shows you the engagement of your users, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t receive many. I have videos that barely get comments, most comments on these are people proclaiming they are the first or second viewer and other uninteresting copy-pasta. Comments should be a nice extra, but you shouldn’t use the amount to evaluate your success on this platform. You can use a call-to-action to increase engagement and get a few more comments. It is more important to look at comments in terms of quality. Do you prefer to have ten people leaving a ‘FIRST’ comment or 1 person leaving a well thought-out comment about your video?
Likes VS Dislikes
Likes vs. Dislikes are tricky. Getting a lot of likes are nice, and they give you an idea of the engagement of your viewers, but they don’t reflect the success of a video or channel. I’ve seen plenty of videos with millions of views that have 50% or more dislikes. Viewers will dislike your content if they just are not interested. You will notice this with switching game genres on channels. If you tend to play strategy games and then play a first person shooter, you will almost automatically gain a bunch of dislikes. Don’t take them to heart; they are just a way for people to let you know if they like the video or not. A video that has a bunch of dislikes at first could turn out to be one of your most successful videos on your channel, once the right people find it.
Dislikes can be an indicator of something being wrong with the video itself, not necessarily the content. If your microphone cuts out or your game stutters a lot of viewers will dislike the video too. A huge spike in dislikes in a video can alarm you that something went wrong during recording or editing. Even if people don’t like the particular kind of content your create, don’t take them personally. We are all entitled to our opinions, that doesn’t make them wrong or right.
How To Deal With The Numbers
- Please write this down somewhere: They are just numbers! They don’t relate to who you are as a person or how good your content is. Just how successful you are in that particular moment. You might do fantastically tomorrow and be back to previous levels in a week. It is not only incredibly difficult to influence because it is based mostly on luck, it is also a purely extrinsic motivator. You have to remind yourself why you are doing it and why you started it in the first place. (Ideally, because you enjoy the process of doing it.)
- Chasing numbers can also lead you to create content you don’t enjoy making. Before you realize it, you are creating videos just because they get views, not because you enjoy creating them. The happiness you get from a high view count only lasts for so long, and the positive effect will disappear. If you enjoy making your content, you will stick with your channel, even if the views drop.
- Set yourself limits to how often you check numbers. There are many fantastic plug-ins for browsers that allow you to block websites or restrict the amount of time you spend on them. If you notice yourself checking in more than once a day, I can highly recommend implementing one of these measures.
- Don’t compare yourself against other channels. You are not the same person; you don’t create the same content, and there are way too many unknowns, to be able to compare your performance against someone else effectively. We look at other channels performance and feel either good about ourselves or worse about ourselves. We create a competition out of thin air and cake an extra layer of stress onto this already stressful hobby of ours. If you take away one single thing from this whole blog post: Block socialblade and any other website that allows you to look at other channel’s statistics and obsess over your own.
I hope this post can help a few of you out there, worrying about your subscriber count. If you have some thoughts you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments. I would love to know what your thoughts are.