Each year countless ambitious entrepreneurs set out to make a fortune through YouTube, with visions of massive followings, big paychecks, and a generally glorious career. Most of them, of course, fail to make millions monetizing their original video content–for a number of different of reasons. But there are countless YouTube monetization success stories as well. YouTube may be the perfect side-hustle project, once you’ve created your blog.
Become a YouTube Partner. The simplest and most common way to make money through YouTube involves partnering directly with YouTube and effectively splitting the money that is made off of ads. This includes both the ads that play during and before your videos, as well as the banner ads that are shown to the right of your video on YouTube.com. For a detailed breakdown of the various ad units, as well as where earnings for each are displayed, check out this recent article from Chris Atkinson at ReelSEO. The biggest advantage of the YouTube Partner program is the convenience: it’s easy to get up and running and start earning some revenue. However, it’s going to be tough to get rich this way; only a very small portion of YouTube partners make the big bucks.
Sign up your own sponsors. There is, of course, another way to make money off of YouTube: cut out the middle man and sign up your own sponsors. If you’re able to build a substantial audience, you’ll have the ability to sign up sponsors for your programming who want to advertise their products and services to your target audience. There’s no simple formula for signing up sponsors for your program; it all depends on your audience, the number of potential sponsors, and their budgets. But if done correctly, this can be a very lucrative source of revenue for YouTube channels.
Promote your own merchandise. While many YouTubers focus on the “direct” monetization routs available, perhaps the biggest potential in video is in the opportunity to promote other products and services that are moneymakers for you. Giving away free video content can be a great way to make money–if you’re effectively promoting merchandise or services that your free users will pay for. If you have products or services to sell and a YouTube audience that would be interested in purchasing them, this might be your best monetization opportunity.
Go freemium style. YouTube can be a great way to generate leads for your paid services, and a “freemium” business model can be a great way to turn on the masses to your paid product. This concept is pretty simple; give away a bunch of content for free on YouTube, but hold back some of your best stuff behind a paywall on your own site. If you can get a big crowd to enjoy your free content, odds are that you’ll be able to get a portion of them to pay for your exclusive video as well. The Young Turks have implemented this model well; check out their channel for a good example of freemium.
Get an affiliate deal in place. If you don’t have a great premium product to sell, find someone who does–and cut yourself into their revenue stream. If you have a large and/or targeted audience, find a partner whose products you can promote in your videos and hash out a way that you can get credit for sending clients their way! Affiliate deals can be tough to monetize if there are no obvious partners for your channel, but there’s a huge opportunity here if you can effectively become a spokesman for another company in your videos.
Of course, YouTube isn’t the only source out there for monetizing your quality video content. Though it’s the most commonly used system (and for most people the best way to make money), there are some alternatives that may be better fits for some:
Become a “Motionmaker” at Dailymotion. DailyMotion has become a popular alternative you YouTube in recent years, and represents a way for video producers to cash in on popular submissions. The process is pretty simple; “Motionmakers” have the ability to upload their videos to Dailymotion and earn a portion of any advertising revenue generated.
Open up your Vimeo Tip Jar. Vimeo takes a different approach to monetizing videos. Instead of relying on ads, this site uses a “Tip Jar” model. That’s pretty much what is sounds like; viewers of Vimeo videos have the option to “Tip This Video,” which involves giving a tip of about $1 up to $500. Video producers get about 85% of all tips generated.
Work on hitting the Break.com home page. Break.com is a video sharing site that offers producers another unique way to make money. If your original video is featured on their homepage, they will pay you $400 to sell the video to them (or you can take $200 to license the video).
Sell access to your channel on Viddler. Viddler essentially allows video producers to sell access to their channels, either on a monthly or weekly basis. So if you have a product that you’re not interested in giving away for free, Viddler can be a useful solution to set up a paid content model.
Become a Blip.tv partner. Blip.tv is another video sharing site that allows video producers to monetize their content through advertisements. There are a number of ad options available, including preroll, overlay, postroll and even commerical breaks for series that qualify.
There are now countless examples of regular folks who have parlayed a clever or creative YouTube video into significant earnings. Below are a handful of videos that have made big bucks for their creators:
Natalie Tran. Aussie Natalie Tran was one of the first to hit it big on YouTube, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years through her “communitychannel” page (which has received over 450 million pageviews). Some of Tran’s biggest hits are videos are Cops (4.3 million views), Bad Loser (6.6 million), and How to fake a six pack (almost 35 million views). She has continued to attract millions of views since she broke through several years ago, and is now parlaying her YouTube stardom into a blossoming film career.
David After Dentist. Not surprisingly, cute kids can help a YouTube video tremendously. “David After Dentist,” a two minute video of a six-year old, post-teeth cleaning, has been viewed more than 100 million times. That has reportedly translated into more than $100,000 in earnings for the parents–enough to pay for a college education on top of the dentist bill. David After Dentist proves that the best and most profitable YouTube videos are often completely unscripted and capture candid moments.
Philly D. Philip DeFranco, better known on YouTube as Philly D, has built several popular YouTube channels with millions of subscribers in total. The channel revolves around what Franco describes as “non news related things to yo face!” He also hosts the Philip DeFranco show Sunday through Thursday, where he talks about news and pop culture. By some estimates, Philly D earns close to $200,000 annually from his YouTube videos. Check out the ads running on his channel to get an idea for how this is possible.
The Young Turks. This political talk show, which started more than a decade ago and has evolved over the years, is another of the great YouTube success stories. The Young Turks have been extremely successful on YouTube through a very devoted fan base–towering high above many mainstream media outlets in terms of popularity. The Young Turks has become the largest online news show in the world, an impressive feat considering the lack of a traditional or mainstream brand.
Smosh. Smosh is the comedy duo of Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla (both of whom were born in 1987) who began to post their videos on YouTube in 2005 and have since grown to become the most popular YouTube channel out there. Smosh was acquired by Alloy Digital in July 2011. Terms weren’t disclosed, but odds are that Ian and Anthony made themselves a bit of walking around money in that deal.
Shaycarl. The story of how Shay Butler became a YouTube phenomenon is a strange one, complete with humble beginnings and a bit of good luck. From his birth in Utah to a Mormon mission in the West Indies to the day he discovered YouTube, Shay’s is an inspiring (and occasionally sad) story. Shay has parlayed comedy shorts into an online mini empire, in a journey that anyone looking to hit it big on YouTube can certainly admire.
Fred Figgelhorn. Fred is actually Lucas Cruikshank, who became a YouTube sensation as a teenager broadcasting from Nebraska. “Fred” describes himself as a “a really hyperactive, temper-throwing teenager who’s stuck in the mentality of a 6-year-old.” But that character has worked to the tune of a popular chennel and thousands in earnings.
Ryan Higa. This success story is another unlikely YouTube star: Ryan started uploading videos when he was a high schooler in Hawaii. Fast forward a few years and Ryan’s YouTube channel Nigahiga has some 7 million subscribers. When you have 30 minutes, take a listen to Ryan’s story in his own words, including a detailed discussion of his rise to YouTube stardom.
Annoying Orange. This channel is the brainchild of former MTV production assistant Dane Boedigheimer. Dane voices an orange who lives on a kitchen counter with other fruits and objects. The series became extremely popular on YouTube, and eventually spawned merchandise that’s been sold at JCPenney and other outlets. There has also been an Annoying Orange video game, which is available on iOS and Android devices.
Shane Dawson. Shane is a YouTuber who made his rise to celebrity after getting fired from a job at Jenny Craig for uploading a video of himself poledancing. Shane’s popular channel features a wide variety of content, including spoofs on music videos, celebrity impersonations, and comedy videos featuring recurring characters. Dawson’s first YouTube bits were videos that he and friends would turn in during high school instead of homework. He’s gone on to release several singles on iTunes.
Epic Meal Time. Not all YouTube success stories are quirky teenage comics; Epic Meal Time is perhaps closer to the type of show you’d see on traditional cable television. The episodes are essentially “food porn” with each focusing on the preparation and consumption of a high calorie, meat-filled meal. This show is also unique in that it is monetized in multiple ways. In addition to traditional ads within videos, the creators sell a line of t-shirts and have also established referral programs with advertisers such as Netflix.
Jenna Marbles. Jenna Mourey, aka Jenna Marbles, has produced some of the most watched videos in the history of YouTube. A couple of her biggest hits have titles like “How To Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking” and “How To Avoid Talking To People You Don’t Want To Talk To.” Hear Jenna’s YouTube success story in her own words in this video, or read a unique profile of her popularity.
PewDiePie. Swedish gamer Felix Kjellberg is something of a cult phenomenon on YouTube; videos featuring him playing video and computer games (often screaming or crying along the way) get millions of views as soon as they’re put up. He’s managed to make a nice living out of horror game playthroughs, once again proving that there can be opportunities for success in unexpected niches (see a brief interview with Felix here).
werevertumorro. The most popular YouTube channel in Mexico, werevertumorro started as a joke but grew into a wildly popular show (a common component in many YouTube success stories). The episodes, which are generally about 10 minutes long, feature young guys talking about relationships, girls, and more.
RoosterTeeth. This channel started out as DrunkGamers.com, which featured a group of guys reviewing video games while drunk. It’s evolved quite a bit over the years to become one of the most popular YouTube channels with nearly 2 billion views and several million followers. RoosterTeeth hit it big with their Red vs. Blue sci-fi series, and they monetize their YouTube presence partially through DVD sales. Check out the official history of this group for the full story.
Before you jump into video production, you’d be wise to get acquainted with some of the cool tools and resources available to you:
Use Content ID To Protect Your Earnings. For those fortunate enough to make meaningful money from YouTube, it’s critical to protect your revenue stream by preventing others from essentially stealing your original content. Content ID is a free system that allows video owners to identify their original material, thereby capturing any earnings on such material that would otherwise be hijacked by copycats.
Become A Regular Reader Of YouTube Insight. YouTube’s Advertising Insight page is an analytics tool that allows content creators to get detailed information about their YouTube audience. That’s valuable information for anyone looking to make money off of YouTube.
Subscribe To YouTube Trends. If you want to make a sustainable living on YouTube (or just continue to generate some additional income), it’s important to stay current and always be coming up with new ideas. YouTube Trends is a great way to stay on top of current trends, and a great place for inspiration for that next big moneymaker.
Check Out The YouTube Playbook. Playbook is another official, free resource provided by YouTube. This one is designed to help partners grow their audience, complete with tips and best practices to help you reach the widest possible audience and maximize your earnings.
Get Familiar With YouTube Keyword Tool. This is another tool to help you figure out what interests the YouTube audience. Though it’s unlikely that the bulk of your viewers are coming from search volume within YouTube.com, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be aware of what current interests are.
Check In On the Official YouTube Blog. Checking in regularly on the official YouTube blog will keep you up to date on the latest trends and tools that can make your life easier and your monthly payment a bit bigger.
Get A Free YouTube Channel Report. SimplyMeasured offers a free report on your YouTube Channel, highlighting which videos are working (and why).
Bookmark YouTube Charts. The official statkeeper for YouTube, this site has information on what videos are popular now and what’s worked historically. (Fun fact: the most viewed videos of all time are Psy’s Gangnam Style, Justin Bieber’s Baby, and Jennifer Lopez’s On The Floor.)
Bookmark VidStatsX. This site aggregates a massive amount of data to show what’s popular on YouTube. In addition to the top channels and videos, there is significant granularity that allows users to see what’s popular now in specific categories.
Ask Questions At YTtalk. YTtalk.com is a massive online YouTube community, and can be a great resource for aspiring YouTubers searching for inspiration or just an answer to a quick question. The forums on this site are extremely active, and there’s a tremendous amount of great information shared by other YouTubers around the globe.
If you’re curious about just how much money you can make on YouTube, take a look through some of the articles below.
How to make money online with YouTube by Stephen Chapman at ZDNet. An attempt to answer a very common question; Chapman breaks down the economics of YouTube and attempts to estimate how much various YouTube stars (and non-stars) can earn in a year.
The Economics of Pussy Riot on YouTube by Peter Coy at Bloomberg Businessweek. A case study in how press (good or bad) can translate into a surge in YouTube popularity, as seen with a jailed Russian girl band.
A Brief History of YouTube [Infographic] by Grayson. Another attempt to put the incredible growth and popularity of YouTube into perspective for those attempting to evaluate the opportunity to generate revenue through video.
Further Reading: Insights From YouTube Stars & Experts
Perhaps the best source of inspiration and guidance are those who have done it already; take a read through the personal stories of some of the biggest YouTube success stories, and learn from their triumphs and failures.
Q&A With A Professional YouTuber featuring Philip DeFranco. Philly D talks candidly about his YouTube success, offering up plenty of advice for aspiring videomakers.
Why Young Turks Beats ABC News On YouTube by Josh Sternberg at Digiday. A look into how creative unknowns are dominating the YouTube landscape, scoring major victories over more established traditional media outlets.
Who Is RayWJ? by Emily Glazer at The Wall Street Journal. Another feature on RayWJ, highlighting his improbable rise to YouTube fame and fortune.
The good news for any aspiring YouTuber: there are tons of resources out there (many of them free) that can make your creative process a lot easier. Below are some articles outlining how best to make use of these tools.
YouTube Video Tools Collection at QuickOnlineTips. A quick and dirty guide to the tools out there that can save you a lot of time and money researching and producing videos.
For anyone out there looking to take their video elsewhere, do some research on what exists beyond YouTube:
Five Alternatives to YouTube by Dave Parrack at MakeUseOf. As simple and straightforward as it sounds: a look at five other sites you can use to make money off your videos.
Seven Reasons Zippcast Beats YouTube. A review of Zippcast’s features and advantages over YouTube.
Dailymotion Publishers : earn money sharing videos on your site by Vincent Abry. DailyMotion has popped up as a viable alternative to YouTube this article looks at how you can increase your odds of becoming a profitable “Motion Maker.”
If you’re not en expert at search engine optimization (SEO), have no fear. There’s a great collection of tips and guides out there for beginners looking to give their YouTube channel every possible advantage:
YouTube SEO by Sean Si at SEO Hacker. An incredibly detailed but easy-to-follow guide to SEO best practices for your video.
Top 3 YouTube SEO Tips : Get More Views! by Jason Coffee at SteamFeed. Three tips for improving your video’s position in just a few minutes.
The SEOmoz YouTube Contest – Winners! by Ruth Burr at SEOmoz. The results of a contest that challenged the SEO community to highlight one tool or tactic in two minutes. There are a lot of ideas applicable to YouTube monetization among the winners.
Making a video go “viral” is the stated objective of just about anyone who has ever uploaded to YouTube. While it’s much easier said than done, it certainly isn’t impossible. For those with the lofty ambition of creating a viral video, we share some insightful ideas:
Why videos go viral (TED Talk) by Kevin Allocca. A lengthy discussion about what makes a video take off (but definitely worth a listen when you have some time).
For the 99.999% of us who don’t have a video go viral and attract boatloads of subscribers, there’s still hope. Building an audience over time can be broken down into something of a scientific and repetitive process–but one with major rewards. Check out some of the ideas for continually growing your subscriber count:
How to Steal Thousands of Your Competitors’ YouTube Subscribers by Sparkah Business Consulting. A step-by-step guide for figuring out where your competition is succeeding and redirecting their audiences to your channel.
Five Tips for Building Your YouTube Audience by Alan Lastufka at YouTube Creator’s Corner Blog. Easy-to-implement suggestions for growing your audience, starting with some very simple ideas to keep ’em coming back to your channel.
Further Reading: YouTube Myths, Tips, Tricks, And Inspiration
Below is a catch-all list of worthwhile reads highlighting tips and tricks for a better YouTubing experience, misconceptions about online videos, and of course a shared experience revolving around getting rich off cat videos:
While much of the attention is on the content creation side of YouTube videos, there is a lot to learn in terms of actually producing and marketing the videos as well:
How To Make YouTube Videos Than Don’t Suck by Steve Campbell at MakeUseOf. A look at best practices for coming up with a compelling concept as well as an in-the-weeds look at the tecchnical side of producing a high quality video.
While just about everything we’ve highlighted in here has been free information, there are some opportunities out there for those willing and able to shell out a few bucks to promote their videos and refine their YouTube skills. A few suggestions for those with a bit of a budget:
Take the Subscriber Magnet course. Former YouTube consultant (now a Programming Strategist at YouTube) Matt Koval offers what is essentially a course in how to get the most out of YouTube. His “How To Be A Subscriber Magnet” shares insights gained from building a massive following online, and is a good investment for those willing to spend a bit of money in their quest to become a YouTube star.
Consult with Kiran Voleti. For those looking for some professional guidance, getting in touch with Kiran could be a good idea. Check out his blog if you want to get a better idea for his background and skills.
Get in touch With Mark Robertson. Mark is the founder of ReelSEO, and another expert on YouTube and video marketing.
Try out FoundUB4. This site also offers consulting services, including ways to promote your company videos and get more eyeballs on your channel.
Download Tube Toolbox. This software package (which includes a free download) is a slick resource for building your YouTube audience. Features include audience targeting, task automation, and general account management.
If you’re setting out to make a career for yourself in online video, you certainly have your work cut out for you. But there is no doubt a huge opportunity in this medium, as several members of the first generation of YouTube stars have proven.
Have another tip for making money from online videos? Let us know in the comments below.