How to make money online with YouTube: a comprehensive guide

Are you interested in setting up a new residual income stream? While striking it rich with YouTube is very unlikely, it's extremely feasible to make an extra $50-$100 every month or two. Here's how I do just that!
Written by Stephen Chapman, Contributor

Looking to make a little money on the Internet? Why not give YouTube a try? You don't have to strike it lucky or go viral to earn money with YouTube, but if you do happen to fall into such luck, there's quite a hefty pot of money to earn from. This is all thanks to companies who pay to advertise through YouTube (which is owned by Google, for those of you who were unaware).

In this post, I'm going to give you ideas for making videos that can earn you some real cash on YouTube, as well as give you some pro tips regarding the best practices for making the most of the videos you upload. Whether you're just an individual looking to make a bit of money on the side, or a business looking to monetize promotional videos, there's something for everyone in this post. Don't expect to break the bank -- I'm not promising riches and wealth beyond your wildest dreams -- but if you're looking for a legitimate way to actually make money online, this could be the article you've been waiting for!

Some stats from yours truly

First, let's start with some stats from a few of my videos. I want to show you that while I'm not making money hand-over-fist, I'm certainly making enough to put a smile on my face. Now, don't be too hasty to draw conclusions from these figures, because there are a number of factors to take into consideration with how videos earn and perform. I'll cover those factors in the next section, but for the moment, here are two of my better-performing videos, which, for what they are, is pretty astounding that I'm even earning anything! I'm not naming the specific videos, because I'm not quite sure at the moment if that would violate Google's ToS. Either way, here are the stats:


As you can see up front, there is no blanket statement for saying "X amount of traffic guarantees X amount of dollars." It just doesn't work like that, unfortunately. To further prove the point, here's some stats from a video of mine that has fairly terrible ad revenue performance:


Rough, right? Depending on who you ask, that $0.50 might be the first thing someone has ever earned online, and that's truly something to be excited about; however, judging by the numbers themselves, those earnings are pitiful. Regardless, I just wanted to give you a feel for how widely performance can vary, but the potential to really earn money is certainly there. Up next, I'll dig into why performance varies so much and what you can do to put the odds of better performance in your favor. Later, I'll go into exactly what you need to do to get set up to start making money with YouTube.

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Ad performance: what's the deal?

On the previous page, I showed some stats from a few of my YouTube videos. The numbers were all over the place, proving that traffic numbers, in and of themselves, are not a good indicator of how much you can expect to earn. In other words, 1,000 visitors don't automatically equate to $1.00 in earnings (or some other figure, for that matter). The reason for that is due to the types of ads that are shown with your videos.

For example, let's assume you posted a video about how to bake cookies. Most likely, the title of your video will be something to the effect of "how to bake cookies." Then, in the description beneath your video, perhaps you list the recipe, including brand names for products you purchased to make the cookies with, etc. Lastly, you add tags to your video that are related to baking, cookies, brands, recipes, appliances, etc.

Now, when someone watches your video, they're most likely going to see ads related to exactly what you've specifed your video is about: cookies, baking, Maytag appliances (if you named that brand), etc. That essentially ensures that someone (hopefully many) will click on one of the ads that's shown to them. Now, I'm going to dive into a bit of my own personal theory here, so take the next paragraph in context.

The factors you can control for letting YouTube know what your video is about are video title, video description, tags, category, and the actual name of the video you upload; however, I think Google takes more factors into consideration with the ads they display in YouTube videos -- namely, voice transcriptions from videos (if a video has such data to extract), the location of the person viewing the video, and the cookies that exist on a viewer's computer. Now, Google may not use any of those, but their goal is to make money. And if they don't run the most relevant ads for every single person that watches a YouTube video, then they lessen their chances (and, thus, your chances) of making money.

So, all that to say that I think Google does more than just the factors under your control to run relevant ads, which ultimately works in your favor. But you should absolutely do your part to accurately explain the contents of your video. And with that, it's time to move on to the next section: keyword research. Though not a necessity, keyword research can greatly increase the odds of your video being discovered via YouTube searches.

Keyword research in YouTube

Before I delve into this section, let me preface keyword research as not being a guarantee of anything: traffic, earnings, exposure, or otherwise. Personally, I think of keyword research as being great for not only figuring out excellent terms to use in relation to videos I plan on posting, but also for researching video ideas to do in the first place. Accordingly, I'll take things one step farther for you and show you how to better validate some of the data you come up with during your research.

First, let's start with the YouTube keyword suggestion tool.

There are two primary ways for searching for keywords with this tool: by words that you're interested in, and by video. In the first method, you search for a term that you're interested in finding popular, related keywords for. Simple enough, let's say you type "baking cookies" into the search box, then the tool will return keywords related to "baking cookies," as well as how many searches that term draws in monthly (it's not an accurate number). The second method allows you to enter a URL for a YouTube video that you'd like to use to get keyword suggestions from. That's pretty awesome, and a great way to see what suggestions YouTube has for keywords related to videos you may be interested in doing.

Leveraging the first method, when I performed a keyword search for "baking cookies," the results showed "Not Enough Data," instead of showing an estimated number of monthly searches. Check it out:


Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that no one is searching for "baking cookies!" This is actually the perfect example to lead into the next keyword research section with, but before I do, I'd like to point out where it says "Match Type" in the upper right-hand corner of the image above. When you do your searches as per the intentions listed in this article, it's best to view your results either by "phrase" or "exact." If you view results by "broad," then you're looking at numbers that aren't truly representative of what you might realistically be able to expect in terms of traffic.

So, with that, I'm going to continue keyword research on the next page. Afterward, we'll get away from the technical stuff and I'll give you some ideas, best practices, and steps to hit the ground running with your new YouTube adventure!

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Keyword research in YouTube, continued

On the previous page, I showed how "baking cookies" yielded no usable data in relation to traffic numbers (that is, roughly the average number of people who search YouTube for that term in a month); however, that doesn't mean you want to count out doing a video showing how to bake your grandmother's famous "carn sarn hot diggity dang" cookies just yet!

From here, what you want to do is see what kind of suggestions YouTube gives as you type "baking cookies" into the search box, as well as what types of videos pop up when searching for "baking cookies." So, first, you head to YouTube. Then, slowly start typing in your term, so that you can see the suggestions YouTube provides after each additional letter you add to your search. Personally, I wanted to see how far after typing "baking" YouTube would suggest "baking cookies," as well as how far down the list of suggestions that term appeared. Here's how far I got before it suggested "baking cookies:"


The third result down is actually quite decent! What that suggests is that enough people have searched for "baking cookies" that YouTube found it likely that when typing "baking c," I was probably more interested in searching for "baking cookies" than "baking chicken" or "baking cakes for beginners." So, when I completed the search, here is what I saw.

As you can see, there are ads all over that search results page, which is a good sign, because it means there are lots of advertisers who are paying to have their ads shown for the keywords I searched for. And for those of you who don't know how the ad world works, basically, the more ads you see, the more competition there is. That means that companies with ads above other ads are paying more to have their ad show first. So, if you have a video on YouTube and an ad from one of those high-paying companies is displayed to someone watching and they click on it, you'll get a bigger slice of pie than you would for a lower-costing ad.

Taking all of that into consideration, now look just under the search box to see the total number of videos YouTube has returned for your search. You can loosely think of that as your competition, basically. Then, look at all the videos that show up on the first page of results. How many views do they have? How long have they been live (1 month, 6 months, 1 year, or more)? Does your exact keyword appear in the titles or descriptions? These are all things to take into consideration... although, all of those things could be almost irrelevant to you, depending on the keyword you shoot for, how well you optimize your video for your primary keyword, and, more importantly, if you can bring traffic to the video via means outside of people searching for it in YouTube (which I'll address on the next page). Just think of all of this as helping you to paint a broad picture of what you're up against, if there are any relevant ads for your keyword, etc.

Now, the last step to really honing in on YouTube data related to your exact keyword is to search for it in quotes. Here is a screen shot showing the very different results I received when searching for "baking cookies" in quotes. As you can see, the overall number of videos reduced drastically, and the videos in the results are quite different, too; however, the ads mostly stayed the same! This is good, and it means that "baking cookies" is an exact term that advertisers are interested in paying for ads for.

So, would "baking cookies" be worth it for you to target? That's up for you to decide! Maybe through that research, you learned that "baking cookies" is the wrong term to use altogether! Perhaps you want to travel down the path of "how to bake cookies" or suchlike. It may seem like a lot of work to do, but in actuality, you can do this kind of research EXTREMELY fast -- especially once you get the hang of it.

The important thing to keep mind of is that this stuff isn't going to be the make-or-break of your video. It just helps you to get some ideas, flesh out some keywords you might want to specifically target, and to generally paint an overall picture. One lesson to note is that if you find that no one is searching for a term, or if you just post a video and leave it to its own devices, your views may well never roll in.

Next up, I'll cover some dos and don'ts, best practices, and ideas/pointers based on my personal experience. Then, I'll wrap everything up with the exact steps you need to take to get started making some actual money with YouTube!

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What to upload, what to upload...

On the first page, I showed you some stats from a few videos of mine. Then, on the two pages that followed, I gave you an overview of keyword research with YouTube and all the data you can take from it. But before you actually jump into all of that, you should spend some time thinking about the kinds of videos you'd like to upload in the first place! Here are some ideas to get your brain thinking down the right path:

-How-to videos on subject matter you consider yourself good at or passionate about (guitar, home repair, baking, etc.)

-Review videos on a subject you're interested in (music, movies, plays, gadgets, etc.)

-Gameplay videos of your favorite games (I love doing these, personally)

-Personality videos (comedy, intellectual, political; do you want people to watch you for you?)

So, what do you want to upload? Read through the rest of the article if you'd like, or stick here and do some thinking. Either way, this is pretty much where you have to first make something happen if you hope to have something to upload with which to monetize.

Best practices, dos and don'ts, etc.

Now, I'm going to go over a hodgepodge of points ranging from dos and don'ts, to best practices, to personal advice based on my experiences. This list is far from the be-all and end-all, but it should certainly be enough to not only steer you in the right direction, but also help you come up with the right questions to ask yourself along the journey. With that said, in no particular order of importance:

Make it fun, first and foremost: Unless you have some serious ambition to make this venture a full-time deal, make sure you understand that nothing is guaranteed; not views, traffic, or earnings. You're going to spend some time doing all of this, like recording, editing, uploading (including writing your title, description, etc. while the video uploads), spreading the word (which I'll cover in a bit), and more. As such, try to make this a fun venture (unless you're reading this article from a business-minded perspective, in which case, you already know what this venture's going to be).

Nobody clicks ads, right?: Wrong. It's easy to talk yourself out of an ad-based model of monetization by thinking everyone is like you, if you're someone who never clicks ads (like me). So, if you have that kind of mentality, then do yourself a favor and stop projecting it onto everyone. Amazing as it may seem, plenty of people click ads. And even if they don't, you can still make money just for X number of people seeing an ad. They don't even have to click through! What you make from such revenue is typically laughable, but it's still free money and every cent counts. I mean, look at my third video example back on the first page: 2,400 views and only $0.50 earned. That's chump change, but it's also chump change that I didn't have beforehand!

Speaking of clicking on ads: Don't click ads that run on your own videos. That's called click fraud and it can get your AdSense account terminated. And unless you've figured out how to pull the con of the century, the money you stand to make from click fraud is laughable and nowhere near worth the risk of getting caught. You won't go to jail or anything for it, but having an AdSense account terminated is a real pain in the butt to deal with, should you want to use AdSense to monetize with in the future.

Don't monetize videos you don't own: Technically, you shouldn't even upload videos that belong to someone else. And it's a good idea not to do that, anyway, because before you can monetize videos on YouTube, you have to go through a proving stage where Google feels you won't be a risk to their advertisers. To do that, you need upload videos, but just don't upload content that would give Google a reason to delete it. Once you're able to start monetizing your videos, make doubly sure you don't upload content that belongs to others and especially don't monetize such content. That can get your AdSense account banned quicker than you can say "Aunt Jemima's pancakes!" For more about what you shouldn't do, click here and read the bottom of the page.

If you know what FPS and encoding are, these tips are for you: If, like me, you're an HD nut, then I'm about to save you a LOT of time and energy in seeking out how get the highest quality 1080p video you can possibly put on YouTube. First, know that YouTube encodes everything that's uploaded. This is important to know, because you can't just upload an uncompressed, 1920 x 1080 60 FPS .avi file and expect that YouTube has the finest to work with, ergo you end up with an amazing 1080p YouTube video. Unfortunately, that's not how it works.

Anything over 30 FPS is a waste, because that's the highest frame rate YouTube allows for its videos; however, YouTube WILL preserve lower frame rates. To note, YouTube encodes videos with the H.264 codec, which is a great codec in most cases, but not for the types of videos I like doing (HD game videos). As such, I have to put in a bit more effort with what I feed YouTube so that I end up with something that represents the original as much as possible. If that ends up being you, then the following links are my supreme offerings to you: link one, link two, link three, link four, and link five. Exhaust them all thoroughly, because between them, you'll find everything you want to know and then some.

Research, research, research: In addition to what I've already mentioned in this article, there's much more to delve into where researching your topic of interest, traffic, and competition are concerned. For instance, many videos have public stats beyond just views, such as showing which Web sites are sending traffic to them! Also, look through the comments and see if people are asking questions about things that weren't covered. That's a great way to gather up some actionable data for yourself in regards to what you'd like to record.

Don't wait for clicks; go get them: While the keyword research component I covered focuses specifically on YouTube, I would highly recommend that you don't just post a video and wait for clicks to roll in. More often than not, that will result in a video that flops and earns you nothing. Using our previous example of "baking cookies," why not try seeing what kind of keyword data you can gather from Google's keyword tool? Also, try searching Google for "baking cookies" using the same methods I mentioned on previous pages. That's a great way to find sites where you might be able to post a link to your video, etc.

Another idea is to leverage social media. Using Twitter, why not search for people who mention "baking cookies" in their tweets? Depending on what they said, you could tweet them a link to your video while addressing their concern. Facebook is another good one. Recently, I purchased a top-of-the-line Alienware laptop, so I've been recording videos with it to show people what it can do. For one of the videos, I posted on Alienware's Facebook page saying something to the effect of, "I wanted to showcase what the latest Alienware M18x R2 is capable of, so here's a 1080p video of a game running with maxed-out settings!" Alienware not only ended up "liking" that comment, but they then posted a new status on their wall with a link to my video. Hello, traffic!

Lastly, remember when I mentioned in the previous point about looking for YouTube commenters with questions on videos related to the topic you're interested in? Well, why not save those peoples' names when you run across them, then message them a link to your video when you post it and say something like, "Hey, I noticed you had a question about such 'n such, so I just wanted to send you a link to my video, where I answer your question and more!" If your content is useful, it will certainly spread on its own to an extent, but you will always do better to help it along. Don't take traffic for granted; it's never guaranteed.

Ask others how their videos are performing: You'd be surprised how many people will be forthcoming with how their videos perform. All you have to do is ask! Sure, people may lie about what they've made, or they may just ignore you, but you could message someone and say something like, "I want to start making some videos about this topic, so I thought I would check around a bit to see if it's worth it to get into." Most times I've done this, people are friendly and not at all threatened that you're going to get in on their action. Just a thought.

Tweak as necessary: When a video of yours has been monetized, go ahead and watch it to see what kind of ads are running on it. If they're not relevant, then maybe you should consider tweaking the title, description, and/or keywords. There's nothing wrong with testing and updating as necessary.

And now, the next and final page will conclude this guide. I'll show you exactly what you need to do to get set up (it's easy), then leave you with some parting thoughts.

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Getting set up to make money online with YouTube

1. Set up a Google account: If you don't yet have a Google account, then go ahead and set one up. You'll need it for use with YouTube and AdSense.

2. Sign up on YouTube: You should be able to just sign into YouTube with your Google account once it's created, but if not, then go ahead and set up a YouTube account per the information they request.

3. Sign up for Google AdSense: Once again, you should be able to log into AdSense with your Google account, but getting set up with AdSense means you'll need to submit much more information, like your address, phone number, SSN/TIN, and more. Make no mistake that Google is paying you whatever you make from ads, so they need to send you tax information on your earnings each year, etc. Also, I'm not sure if it's still the case today, but when I signed up for AdSense, they mailed a card which contained a code to my physical address so as to verify it. I had to call a number, enter the code on the card, etc. The whole process took about a week. Oh, and if the AdSense site doesn't seem to work when you visit it, then disable your ad blocking software/add-ons.

4. Upload a video or two: While you're waiting for the card Google sends to verify your address, this is a good time to upload a video or two so you can start building a history with the site. The videos don't need to be public; they can be unlisted or even private. You'll need to have videos present in your account so you can activate monetization.

5. Enable monetization on your videos: When logged into your YouTube account, click "Settings," then, look for "Monetization" towards the bottom of the left-hand sidebar. Once you click that, there should be an "Enable My Account" button you can click. If you don't see it yet, then you don't quite have enough of a history with YouTube. That's okay, though, because it doesn't take long, and getting set up with this is far easier now than it was even earlier this year. Anyway, once you have monetization enabled, all you'll need to do is link your AdSense account and that's it!

6. Bookmark this post and revisit it often: Once you get all set up and you're ready to take things to the next level, make sure you revisit this post! There are plenty of ideas herein that you can revisit to come up with new ideas for content, videos, etc.


First and foremost, I really hope you're walking away from this article with something of use. I know it's a lot to take in, and for some of you, this is a completely new learning experience. For those of you where that's the case, my advice is to just take your time, loosen up, and have fun while learning all of this. Feel free to ask questions if you have them; I'm here to help. (It's best if you send me an email via the contact form, because after a certain point, I simply can't keep up with comments any longer.) Thanks for taking the time to read all of this and I look forward for writing additional installments, should reader interest prove great enough. Best of luck with all of your money-making endeavors!

Do you have any tips or advice you'd like to offer others in regards to making money with YouTube? If so, then share your knowledge with everyone by leaving a comment below!

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