Engagement is critical to online success for every business: "Authentic conversations build brand loyalty and allow you to connect with customers, helping to drive traffic and sales," according to Digital Marketing at a Glance.

Yet building an audience with whom you have these authentic conversations can be a challenge. This is especially true on YouTube, where 300 hours of video is uploaded every minute and every video is surrounded by similar viewing options that distract your audience. However, it's not impossible.

To take your channel to the next level, you have to focus on engagement. The following tips will help you build an audience that’s excited to comment and like the content you create. In an ideal world, those who are highly engaged on YouTube will also want to purchase your products and become loyal customers—completing the digital marketing circle and making your YouTube efforts worthwhile.

1. Focus on the Little Things

The smallest details often have the most significant impact with YouTube, where attention span, distractions and competition from millions of similar videos are all in play at one time. Use these tips to ensure your "little things" are making a big difference.

  • Keep your videos short and sweet: People retain up to 80 percent of what they watch when the video is less than 1 minute. That falls to 60 percent at 2 to 3 minutes and 50 percent or less at 5 to 10 minutes (Kissmetrics).

  • Support multiple languages: Videos that support multiple languages see a 60 percent increase in engagement. Look at your audience metrics within analytics—if it looks like some viewers are coming from other parts of the world, consider which languages your videos should support. YouTube currently allows you to support up to 54 languages.

2. Try Annotators

Annotators are like the CTA in your video and you’ve seen them dozens of times before because they’re effective. As with any landing page, social post or email—if you want something from your audience, you have to ask for it. Luckily, YouTube makes it possible for you to do this as well.

YouTube video annotations

Here are a few ways Neil Patel suggests using your annotators:

  • Ask subscribers watch more videos
  • Ask them to visit a website or landing page
  • Ask for a "like," comment or share

Add these by editing videos in your Creators Studio and then track success by checking your annotation reports. Is engagement increasing on these videos? If so, test different wording, add annotators to more videos and, slowly but surely, you’ll create a blueprint for the perfect annotation.

3. Talk to Your Viewers

If you want your audience to engage with and talk to you, you have to be the first to speak. Instead of waiting for action, ask for and encourage it:

Treat engagement online like a conversation in real life. There has to be two sides for it to work. Make sure you respond to your audience on your various social media pages, and you will see a vast improvement across all of your platforms.

- Chris Thompson, YouTube singer with nearly 300K subscribers.

In addition to annotations, you can ask for likes and shares at the end of your video, or even encourage viewers to check out more content. You can ask questions pertaining to the video as well, to get a conversation started in the comments.
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When people do engage, remember to reply back. This is how you build a community where authentic engagement is the norm.

4. Don’t Ignore Your Thumbnail

A thumbnail that stands out drives 154 percent more clicks from women and 64 percent more clicks from men. If women are your target audience, this is a no-brainer.

But what makes your thumbnail stand out? The best way to ensure this is to make a custom thumbnail, which is like any other social image you’ve created for blog posts, Facebook or other marketing efforts. Every video in the image below has one.

YouTube custom thumbnail

Once your image is created, follow these steps to upload it correctly:

  1. Go to Creator Studio and click "Video Manager"
  2. Find the video that needs the thumbnail and click "Edit"
  3. Upload your image to the left of the preview screen
  4. Hit "Save"

Add custom thumbnails to just a few of your videos. Use this as a test to see if they receive more engagement than those that didn’t get the thumbnail updates. If so, add them to every video you’ve already uploaded and continue to do so with all new videos as well.

5. Test Popular Formats

While every businesses’ video needs are different, finding a way to incorporate the most popular forms of video content—Comedy (39%), News (33%) and Music (31%)—can help boost your engagement. Here are a few ways various businesses could branch out to these genres:

  • Retail: Record monthly "News" updates on latest trends in fashion within your industry. You can include images and video of your products as well, so long as they fit naturally within the content.

  • Hardware store: This farmer’s barn dance has now been viewed more than 255K times, and the star of the video, farmer Jay Lavery, has been featured on news channels across the nation and was even recently on Ellen. Do something similar in your hardware store—people are not expecting to see your employees dancing in the aisles, and the end product just might be hilarious.

You can also take a cue from some of the most popular YouTube videos of all-time, like Dollar Shave Club, Dove, Budweiser and more — all of which use video to tap into new genres and reach new audiences.

Boosting video engagement is a long-term effort that takes trial and error.

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Don’t forget to:

Be sure to track the success of your updates and engagement efforts with YouTube’s analytics dashboard.

Try new ideas with just one or two videos to see if they work. If they do, deploy channel-wide and test some more.