YouTube video structure could be one of the biggest secrets to getting your channel started and getting the attention you need to grow
Make enough YouTube videos, and most people will settle into a structure. People are hard-wired for repetition. So even if you don't consciously try to structure your videos with some of the ideas we talk about here, you'll subconsciously include them in a routine.
That's how most YouTube creators stumble into a video structure. They never even think about creating a formal plan for the structure. Instead, it's all that subconscious routine.
And we all know that ‘subconsciously' isn't the way to grow your YouTube channel.
You don't just stumble into YouTube growth, and you don't go viral by just lucking into the best practices. Instead, you have to consciously work at making your videos better.
Making that conscious effort to structure your videos is part of that work.
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What is video structure, and why is it so important?
Video structure boils down to two ideas you incorporate into your videos.
First, it's the flow and layout you use in each video. This part includes the main structural elements like a hook, a channel callout, the video's topic content, and a closing call-to-action.
Adopting a formal structure like this helps create videos in the least amount of time possible. By starting with that basic outline, you already know what you want to include in each piece and sometimes can even drop in a templated piece of content.
For example, I say the same three sentences after my channel trailer in every video.
“Joseph Hogue with the Let’s Talk Money channel here on YouTube. I want to send a special shout-out to everyone in the subscriber community, thank you for taking a part of your day to be here. If you’re not part of that community yet, just click that little red subscribe button. It’s free and you’ll never miss an episode.”
We'll talk about some of the branding pieces later in the article, but it also makes for an easy way to start my videos after the hook, before I start on the content.
Making a conscious format on structure gives the organization and flow of your video. One piece naturally leads into the next, making for a better story.
The second idea here, and the more important one, is that structuring your videos helps ensure you get in as many opportunities to increase engagement and keep people watching. This engagement isn't built just through the formal structure but in the individual pieces you make sure to include in each video.
Do I need to convince you of the importance of all this?
Wouldn't it be nice to cut half an hour or more from the time it takes to create a video? Wouldn't it be nice just to know, “OK, this is what I need in this section,” instead of struggling with writer's block?
And we know the importance of keeping people watching a video engaged. Besides the number of views, a video's average view duration is the most crucial factor in your YouTube success. Those two measures fit together for your total watch-time on a video and determine how aggressively YouTube ranks and promotes it.
How well your viewers engage with your video is another powerful signal to the YouTube gods. Getting those likes, comments, and shares shows YouTube that people like your video and builds a relationship with those viewers that will lead to them subscribing.
How to Structure a YouTube Video
I'll walk you through how I structure my YouTube videos below, but I want you to understand the concept more than the actual steps here. The idea of creating your videos with a structure is much more valuable.
As you're reading through the different parts of a YouTube video, list each along with other ideas. Of course, you might want to start creating your videos using my exact structure, but after a couple of dozen videos of your own, I guarantee you'll start getting ideas and preferences for your structure.
This structure is really where you make your channel unique. How each video is structured, and flows will help separate you from the other 26 million-plus YouTube channels and help with branding.
Four Main Parts to a YouTube Video Structure
Let's look at that idea in a YouTube video structure, the formal layout, and then build in some individual points to drive engagement and community.
If you haven't already gotten the message, I'm going for the broken record award and want to say this a few more million times…this is the structure I use and the one I've seen used by many other channels, but it's by no means the only way to do it.
Start with this basic structure and add in your ideas. Experimenting and growing with novel ideas is how you grow a channel on YouTube.
My videos always include four key elements; the hook, a channel welcome, the content, and an end screen call-to-action.
Is a Hook Important for YouTube Video Structure?
I picked up this from Sunny Lenarduzzi, and it is a great way to build excitement for your videos.
The hook is a 15- to 45-second intro to your video that tells people what you will talk about and why it's worth watching. Many of the larger, professional YouTube channels use a hook, but Sunny is particularly good at describing how to set it up.
Every hook includes a hook (yeah, sorry for the double use), an outcome, and a testimonial.
The hook-piece is one sentence that grabs your audience. It's the first sentence designed to shock, amaze, perplex, or excite your viewer. This hook could be a statistic, a question, or an interesting statement.
“The average American eats eight spiders a year while sleeping!”
The outcome statement is a sentence or two and promises precisely what the viewer will get in the video. This statement is important because you're setting people up to watch the entire video. The hook got them excited. They know precisely what they'll get out of it and will stick around until they get it.
“By the end of this video, I'm going to reveal three ways to stop those eight-legged freaks from crawling into your mouth while you sleep. I'll also show you why that might not be a good thing.”
The testimonial helps to build credibility for the outcome. It's why people need to watch YOUR video instead of just clicking on one of the suggested videos on the same topic. It can be proof from someone else or your own experience.
“In fact, I used this process and haven't seen a spider in the house for three years.”
(OK, so the example here is a little far-fetched, but you get the idea)
Many people start their videos by going right into the content, and some will tell you that YouTube viewers want the goods without all the intro and calls to action. That might be true for some viewers, but it's no way to grow a channel.
To grow your channel, add subscribers, and get people engaged, you need to get them excited and interested in your video. That means doing more than just delivering some quick content.
Why Use a Channel Welcome in Your Videos
The channel welcome is an easy way to build that sense of community and includes some deep branding ideas that helped me grow from zero to 35,000 subscribers in my first year on YouTube.
- I get to repeat my channel name. People are just starting to see YouTube as a regular source of entertainment and individual channels rather than simply a place to watch funny cat videos. You want to put your channel name in their heads just as the major networks like Fox, ABC, and TNT do on television.
- I get to show my appreciation for subs and their time. How much free time do you have in a day? It's a big deal for someone to take 10- or 15-minutes to watch your video. Appreciate that, and make sure your viewers know you do.
- I get to build a sense of exclusivity in the community. I'm explicitly thanking my community and telling people how they can be part of that community by subscribing.
- I lower the mental cost of subscribing. Being YouTubers, it can be easy to forget that some people don't know that you can subscribe to channels or that it costs nothing. Most people are still casual users of the platform. You want to plant every seed possible to get them to commit to your channel.
You don't need to stretch your channel welcome beyond two or three sentences. Get those elements in quickly and get on with the content.
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Structuring your Video's Content
Just as your overall video has a formal structure to organize it and give it a flow, the content section of your video should have its own structure.
- Lead in with a problem or something to build excitement about the content
- Relate the problem to your solution
- Describe your solution
- Prove how the solution works or will help transform the viewer through a personal story or anecdote
- Summarize what you talked about and why it's important
You don't necessarily have to script out your entire video. I do, and we will talk about why in a coming chapter, but just outlining your ideas in this structure will help keep you from rambling and give your content a flow that makes sense.
Wrapping up Your Video Structure with a Call-to-Action
A call-to-action (CTA) is what you want viewers to do, whether it be watching another video, subscribing, or clicking through to your blog or affiliate.
You can have multiple CTAs throughout your video. Some might call on the viewer to watch for a link in the video description to another video or a special offer. Some might be to subscribe like in your channel welcome section.
You should limit your CTAs and repeat your most important ones towards the end of the video. Pushing too many calls-to-action and your viewer can get overloaded, meaning none of the CTAs stand out as essential, and none get clicked.
Putting your most important CTAs towards the end works on several levels. First, if someone has watched your entire video, they probably liked it or were entertained. This goodwill increases the likelihood they'll listen to you when you ask them to do something else. Putting a CTA towards the end also means it's one of the last the viewer will hear and will be top-of-mind.
Potential CTAs to include throughout and towards the end of your videos include:
- Subscribing to the channel (don't forget to tell them why they need to subscribe)
- Clicking through to a specific video that goes into detail on a related topic
- Calling out a link to a free lead magnet that will put them on your email list
- Calling out a link to an affiliate offer
- Share their thoughts through a comment
- Support the channel with a ‘Like' or by sharing the video
- Join you on other social media platforms
How to Structure Your YouTube Videos for Engagement and Community
Even after 200+ videos on YouTube, I still use a checklist for each video. This checklist includes ideas that will help keep people watching, engage them in a CTA or develop that relationship and build community. Of course, I don't use every one of these ideas in every video, but I try to include as many in each video as possible.
- Ask viewers to comment on a specific question. Most people don't think about commenting and won't know what to say unless you ask a specific question related to the topic.
- Include and tease ‘bonus' content at the end of the video. This teaser can be an extra idea, a quick-win trick, or anything that adds to the topic. This suspense helps keep people watching even if the main content loses their interest.
- Refer to other videos. Keeping people on your channel or even just on YouTube after your video is a massive signal to YouTube and one of the most significant factors in boosting views. If you have a video that goes further into a topic, refer to it and include a card or link in the video description.
- Use graphic interrupts! You can use anything from showing text on the screen to showing an image or screen share clip. It's anything that breaks up the monotony of watching your pretty face for 15 minutes, and it's critical to boosting your average view duration. These can include informational graphics, charts, funny images, or a b-roll. I usually try having some graphic or text interrupt every minute, sometimes even every 30 seconds.
- Humor…even if it's bad jokes! It can be challenging for educational channels, especially in themes like personal finance, to get humor across. Remember, though, education isn't enough when people have hundreds of thousands of other channels competing for their time. So fit elements into each video that entertain, amuse or surprise viewers.
- Use a personal story or testimonial. People learn from education, but stories engage them. Even a list video about making a casserole can draw people in with that tragic casserole experience you had or the story you heard.
- Brand Building – we talked about the different ways to build your brand on YouTube in a previous chapter, but it's essential to make a note to include these ideas in each video. Your brand is one of the only things that separate you from all the other channels on YouTube and the only reason why someone would subscribe. You won't include every element of brand-building in every video, but you must consider how to include a few.
- ‘Talk up' what you're currently covering or about to cover every minute or so. Attention spans are notoriously low on YouTube. So keep people interested by every-so-often talking about how important an idea is or teasing what you're going to reveal next within the video.
- Do not use summary language towards the end of the video. While it's good to summarize or repeat some ideas towards the end of a video, don't let viewers know that's what you're doing. Using phrases like “In summary” or “To wrap it up” tells people that the video is over and they should start looking for other videos in the suggested column. Be providing valuable information or entertainment to your final call-to-action and end screen.
It might be a lot to consider for every video you produce but trying to hit as many of these points as possible will boost your channel watch-time and engagement and lead to more subscribers. Of course, you probably won't fit every item into every video unless you're a superstar, but make a conscious effort to check through the list each time.
YouTube Video Structure Summary
The exact structure and process you use for your videos are much less critical than the idea of using a structure and implementing it. I like hooking viewers, building a story, and leading up to a call-to-action because it's a simple, repeatable process that makes scripting easy.
You might decide you want more depth with your video structures, like regularly including testimonials or quotes from others. It would mean more prep work and make your channel unique for its videos.
I realize this seems like a very formulaic way of setting up your videos, and it can be tempting to go in and talk conversationally instead. If you can speak through a video, hitting every element above every time, you're an exceptional person. But, for the rest of us, at least outlining your video with this formal structure will help make sure all your videos are as entertaining and engaging as possible. That will translate to longer watch time, more subscribers, and a channel that grows fast!