When you want to watch videos online, the first place you probably think to go is the basement. Once there, you probably head straight to YouTube. And for good reason.
YouTube has come to dominate the video portion of the new-media landscape. Despite stiff competition from newer rivals like Twitch and TikTok, it remains unrivaled as a destination for long-form videos, tutorials, vlogs, and “Muppet Show” conspiracy rants.
But if you’re an independent creator and you’ve never made a YouTube video before, how do you start? Here’s how to make videos for YouTube, from pre-production to final upload and promotion.
Before you record your video, you’ll need to complete a few steps:
Scripting and storyboarding
Testing and setting up your equipment
Let’s dive into those steps and explain why they’re essential.
Competitor research is how you assess your content niche and how it stacks up against other creators who are producing content similar to yours. Your niche is the specific topic you’re covering, and the more targeted you are in your niche, the better. If your content is too general, you won’t stand out. It would be hard to rise above the noise on YouTube with a channel called American History. But a channel focused on the history of your town — or better yet, your neighborhood — could deliver something viewers aren’t getting anywhere else.
To find your competitors:
Search YouTube for your particular topic or subject
Make a list of the channels that are ranking at the top of the search for that subject
Alternatively, you can pull up relevant channels that you already know about and whose content you like
Once you have a list of channels on hand, note what those channels do well. Ask yourself, “how can I replicate these results while putting my spin on things?”
Also, brainstorm subtopics within your niche, things that may interest your audience but remain untouched by your competitors. Take note of your competitor’s most popular videos, their titles, and descriptions. Doing that will help you figure out what makes them so successful.
Keyword research is not specific to YouTube videos. In fact, it’s a large part of SEO, or search engine optimization.
SEO means using specific keywords and phrases in your content so it will rank in the top search results on search engines like Google. Basically, if the keywords match the content your audience is looking for, they’ll be more likely to find your content.
But just because SEO is everywhere, it doesn’t mean there aren’t unique considerations when it comes to YouTube keyword research and optimization.
To do some basic keyword research on YouTube:
Consider the topic or topics that you want to cover for your videos. Let’s say you want to do a video series about the history of your neighborhood, Uptown.
Next, generate some general terms related to that topic. So maybe “Uptown,” “Uptown history,” and “Uptown origins.”
Enter those terms into the YouTube search bar, which will pull up a list of related videos
If you see your competitors’ videos ranking in that search query, you’ll know the keywords you’ve picked will resonate with your target audience.
There’s a lot more to keyword research for your YouTube videos than there is space in this article. For more information and some free tools you can use to aid in your quest, [read our article on YouTube SEO]
Storyboarding and scripting your video
Not all YouTube videos require a storyboard. For example, if you're making a simple video where you're just sitting in front of your camera talking, there's not much you have to map out.
No matter how low-frills your video may be, crafting a script is always a good idea. Why? For every minute of video that you record, the time to edit that minute multiplies considerably. If you don't have a script on hand, you may end up rambling in front of the camera, which will increase your editing time and probably decrease your views.
Testing and setting up your equipment
Before you start recording, you’ll want to test your equipment and set up your recording space. This means:
Scouting for a filming location, whether it’s your office, your room, an outdoor area, or elsewhere.
Making sure that you have the proper lighting for your location; if you’re shooting outside you may not need lighting, but if you’re indoors you almost certainly will.
Checking your camera to confirm that it records at a proper resolution. If possible, work with whatever camera you have on hand to save on costs. Your cell phone will probably work. However, keep in mind that you may need to purchase additional equipment.
Testing your audio to ensure that it sounds clean and crisp. If you already have a simple recording system set up, such as a mic hooked up to your phone or laptop, this may involve an easycheck of your sound levels. If not, you may need a microphone or other recording equipment to ensure that you’re ready to record.
Recording videos: software and editing equipment
As mentioned, you have to make some upfront purchases to create a professional-looking video, ranging from cameras to microphones to lighting gear. You’ll also need editing software. There are a lot of options out there, from free YouTube editing tools with limited capability — which may be fine for simple videos and basic edits — to professional-grade editing suites that cost upwards of $30 a month and take months to learn to use, but can produce highly polished, seamless videos.
Of course we’re biased, but we believe Descript gives you the best of both worlds: you can start making basic edits immediately — all you need to know is how to edit a doc — and it has all the capabilities you’d want from the pro-grade software.
With Descript, you can transcribe speech to text and record your screen, both of which are useful features for creating YouTube videos. While everyone's learning curve varies, once you get the hang of the app, Descript's valuable features and increased functionality can reduce your total production time by hours, maybe days.
How To Create YouTube Videos: Intros and Outros
Now that it's finally time for lights, camera, and action, what distinct video storytelling elements should you keep in mind as you begin to record?
The video intro is where you'll want to shine as bright as possible, as you have minimal time — a few seconds at most — to catch your viewer's interest. If you haven't hooked them by the five-second mark, you’ll probably lose them.
Make sure the tone fits your subject matter. Don't make it too long, either.
In general, you should introduce yourself, the name of your channel, and the specific topic you'll be covering.
If you've managed to hook people to the point that they watch your video to the end, major congrats are in order. Your content is compelling, entertaining, captivating — or all of the above. However, you still need to bring it to a satisfying close. This is the outro.
Outros are the perfect place to mention your channel name, share with your viewers your social media handles, and offer a friendly reminder to like your video and subscribe to your channel, too.
Uploading your videos for YouTube
After you record and edit your video, the next stage is uploading it to your channel. Before you do so, you'll want to make sure your channel is ready to host that content professionally.
Some last-minute spot checks before uploading:
Make sure you're happy with your channel's name. Rebranding can be a hassle if your channel gets traction.
Include a concise bio and links to your other social media platforms
Take full advantage of YouTube's visual-branding tools, which include an appropriately-sized web banner for your channel and an avatar.
Once you've completed your spot checks, it's time to upload your video. If you’re using Descript, you can export directly to YouTube — you won’t have to download to your desktop or somewhere then upload again to YouTube. Here’s how. If you didn’t edit in Descript you’ll have to upload manually. To do that:
Click on the Create icon in the top right-hand corner of your screen. It looks like a miniature camcorder.
When you click on the icon, you'll see a drop-down menu. Click on Upload video, which will take you to a new screen that prompts you to either upload your file directly to YouTube or drag and drop your file instead.
After you upload your video to YouTube’s content manager, a few more steps remain:
Choose a video title that clearly conveys your subject matter while also using keywords to rank in search results
Tag your video appropriately, once again with keywords, to help people find your content
Write a brief but informative description of your video in its about section
Select an eye-catching thumbnail that conveys your topic at a smaller scale. This is important because a potential viewer may be browsing search results on their phone, where video thumbnails appear smaller.
Once you've covered those steps, you can hit Publish. One small note: Descript also has integrations with multiple hosting sites, including YouTube, that make it even easier to upload your content.
The best way to make YouTube videos? Get creative
After you've uploaded and published your video, all that's left is promotion.
Remember, videos that deliver a compelling idea, original message, or interesting information, that are recorded and edited to create a pleasant viewing experience, and that use the right keywords will win views. Still, they will never rank as high as videos you actively promote by sharing on social media.
If you have other social accounts, promote your video on your pages. Keep track of how well your video does with this combination of keyword optimization and promotion to see what works well and what you should avoid in future videos.
YouTube also has a built-in tool for tracking metrics called YouTube Analytics; it helps you map out high-performing future content. Through it, you can calculate:
Gender and age of your viewers
Audience retention and watch time
With that final stage complete, you're done. You have envisioned, scripted, recorded, edited, and uploaded your first YouTube video.
A rough cut is where you focus on shaping your story and honing your message. It’s essentially where you organize the beginning, middle, and end of your story, so you can see the shape your story is taking.