In the early days of YouTube, there weren’t a whole lot of YouTubers or brands creating content on the platform, so it was much easier for content creators to stand out. Fast forward to 2022, and there are now roughly 15 million active content creators on YouTube pumping out 500 hundred hours of content every minute.
With that in mind, you’re probably wondering how to promote your YouTube channel so that it stands out above the rest. And how much will promotion cost? Fortunately, there are many tools, tips, and tricks you can use to promote your YouTube channel without having to spend a lot of money — or any money at all.
In this blog, we’ll explore some of my favorite, no-cost methods to promote a YouTube channel.
Create compelling content.
Use keywords in your headlines, descriptions, and tags.
Customize your thumbnails.
Promote your channel on social media.
Promote your channel on forums.
Build a community.
Run a contest.
How to Promote Your YouTube Channel for Free
I have my own YouTube channel where I talk about anime, and when I first got started I definitely did not have money to spend on expensive ads or pricey tools to grow my channel. So, I did a lot of the following to find my audience, and I saw growth pretty quickly:
1. Create compelling content.
There are many tactics you can use to attract viewers to your channel, but none of these tactics can make up for lackluster content. The fact is no one wants to get invested in content that isn’t good.
A major key to attracting an audience and encouraging them to subscribe is to create compelling content that will keep them coming back for more.
Pro-Tip: Look at other established content creators in your niche for inspiration. What do you enjoy most about their videos, and what would you do differently? Use your answers to help you figure out the kind of content you want to make.
2. Use keywords in your headlines, descriptions, and tags.
Hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded to YouTube every day. To ensure your videos reach your target audience, you need to incorporate keywords into your headlines, descriptions, and tags.
There are free tools like Google Keyword Planner, which can be accessed from your Google Ads dashboard. Don’t worry — you don’t have to run ads to use it. All you need is a Google account.
Pro-Tip: One of the simplest ways to find the right keywords without using any tools is to enter your video’s topic in the YouTube search bar, and use the autosuggest to find words and phrases you should incorporate into your content.
3. Use hashtags.
You can also use the keywords you found to create hashtags for your videos’ titles and descriptions. Your video’s content may also inspire ideas for a hashtag. For example, maybe you interviewed a popular guest on your channel — that guest’s name can be used as a hashtag to attract their fans to your content.
Pro-Tip: Look at other YouTubers in your niche to see what hashtags they are using so you can find the right ones for your content.
4. Customize your thumbnails.
The thumbnail of your video serves as your video’s first impression — and we all know you never get a second chance at a first impression. To grab viewers’ attention, create a unique, eye-catching thumbnail that will compel them to click on your content.
YouTube thumbnails that stand out typically include a combination of the following:
A face (humans naturally focus on faces when it comes to photos)
Bright contrasting colors
Bold text of no more than six words
Pro-Tip: For my own YouTube videos, I use Canva’s free YouTube thumbnail tool. With Canva, the thumbnail templates are already the proper dimensions and there are tons of fun stickers, bold fonts, colors, and background images to choose from. Plus, I can upload my own images from my phone or computer to the template.
5. Post regularly.
Consistency is important when attracting potential subscribers to your channel. When you post frequently and consistently you’ll gain credibility with your audience because they know you’ll always keep the good content coming. To start, try posting a new video every two weeks and eventually work your way to once or twice a week.
Pro-Tip: You can also use YouTube Analytics to track the days and times your audience interacts with your content the most. For example, if you notice your videos get the most views when posted on Saturdays at 12 p.m., you’re going to want to have videos posted around that time to get the most engagement.
6. Promote your channel on social media.
The news director of a TV station I worked for would always say this about promoting content: “If it’s not on social media, then it doesn’t exist.” Keep this in mind when promoting your YouTube channel.
You can put out amazing content, have the perfect thumbnail, and use all the right keywords — but if you don’t promote your content on social media, you’re losing out on a potentially huge audience.
To attract anime fans to my channel, I started a Twitter account and started using the #anitwt and #AnimeAfterDarkCH hashtags whenever I tweeted about my videos. “Anitwt” is short for “Anime Twitter,” and is used to help anime fans connect with other fans on the platform.
#AnimeAfterDarkCH is a hashtag used for a weekly Twitter space geared toward Black anime fans. Now when I check my YouTube analytics, I often notice about 80% of my views come from Twitter users.
HubSpot’s Senior Manager of Marketing Essie Acolatse also suggests creating videos to cross-promote on different platforms.
“Make shorter bite size versions as teasers for other platforms. These teasers should fit the best video format for that platform, and should be engaging enough to make the viewer want more,” she said. “It’s often times hard to get people to leave the platform they’re already on, but taking advantage of your other social platforms can help drive views to your channel.”
Pro-Tip: Use social media to follow and connect with content creators, figureheads, and other prominent people in your niche. This will help you find online communities that correspond with your niche and can help expose your channel to the right audience.
7. Promote your channel on forums.
Online forums like Reddit are great places to promote your channel. Just remember that many forums have “no promotions” policies — but you can get around them with a little bit of tact. Make sure that you’re contributing value to the conversation and that your posts don’t come off too much like advertisements.
For example, let’s say you’re a fashion YouTuber and you notice a Reddit forum discussing thrift store fashion — a topic you’ve covered on your channel. Instead of replying with “Hey, check out my YouTube channel about fashion.” You can say:
“That’s a really cool perspective! I love thrifting and actually made a YouTube video with some great tips on how to find the best items at thrift stores. You can check it out if you’re looking for advice.”
Then you would link to your specific video.
Pro-Tip: Be an active contributor to these forums even when you don’t have new content to promote. Doing this adds value to the conversation and shows that you’re trying to be helpful instead of just plugging your channel.
8. Build a community.
Use your YouTube to establish yourself as an authoritative voice in your niche and to create a space for people with shared interests. The most effective (and free) way to do this is to simply engage with your audience. Reply to comments by sharing more valuable information.
Some YouTubers will even shout out new subscribers in their videos. You can also ask commenters for suggestions on your next topic and give them some recognition for contributing.
Pro-Tip: If you have more than 500 subscribers, you can take advantage of YouTube’s “Community” feature. This feature allows creators to engage with their audience between uploads via status updates, polls, and GIFs.
9. Run a contest.
Running a contest is an effective way to attract new subscribers, but you’ll want to make sure the contest attracts people who are genuinely interested in your niche and not just the prize.
To do this, make sure the prize is something connected to your topic. For instance, if I were to run a contest to attract anime fans, a good prize would be free anime merchandise or a gift card to anime clothing retailer Atsuko.
Pro-Tip: Be sure to promote your contest on social media and in online forums whenever possible.
10. Cross-promote your videos on YouTube.
In every YouTube video I post, I always take advantage of the platform’s “cards” feature. This feature allows you to promote a video across different videos on your platform. This works by posting a small icon at the corner of your video that links to another video or playlist. You can set the duration for how long you want the card to appear. Below is an example of what a card looks like:
Another way to cross-promote your videos is to include an end screen. Have you ever watched a YouTube video and saw clickable ads for other videos appear in the final 10 seconds? That’s an end screen, and it encourages viewers to explore more of your content and subscribe.
Acolatse also suggests using YouTube Shorts.
“Those bite size video versions for other platforms can also be used as YT shorts,” she said. “YT is investing a lot of money into shorts and because that feed reaches a different audience, it’s a great way to boost engagement on your overall channel. Make sure these shorts hook viewers in within the first couple of seconds and make them very compelling.”
Pro-Tip: Whenever I upload a new video, I always use cards and the end screen to link back to my previous video. This can give your older content a second life and a chance to gain new views.
11. Collaborate with other creators.
This is another form of cross-promotion that is helpful to all parties involved and can help expand your reach. For a successful collaboration, find a YouTuber whose audience overlaps with yours.
For example, if you’re a fitness expert, you can collaborate with a content creator who also focuses on exercise or nutrition. Once you know who you want to work with, reach out to that person, and you two can plan on how you’re going to make a unique video for both of your channels.
“This is one of the best organic ways to grow. Their audience will get a chance to see you and your audience can see them,” Acolatse said. “Creating content with other creators that have a similar niche and following size as you can help you get additional views on your content.”
Pro-Tip: Now is the time to use the connections you’ve made on social media to scope out the best collaborator.
12. Create playlists for your YouTube videos.
The more videos you create, the harder it will be for viewers to navigate your channel. Creating playlists organizes your content into specific categories, and allows viewers to binge your work. Playlists will help viewers find the relevant content they are looking for on your channel, and they’ll be more likely to subscribe when they finish binge-watching your videos.
Pro-Tip: Keep in mind your playlists when creating content. Ask yourself how you’d categorize the video and what playlist it would fit into.
13. Embed your YouTube videos.
If you have a blog or website, embedding your YouTube videos in your blog content or product page is a great way to boost conversions and attract subscribers to your channel. Having an article or webpage connected to your video can also help it rank higher in search engine results.
Pro-Tip: Make sure to use keywords in your blog or webpage’s content as well to help people find your site and, in turn, your YouTube video.
With the rise in popularity of livestream platforms like Twitch, livestreaming content is a trend that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook have all incorporated live-streams into their platforms — and YouTube is no different. Some ways you can use YouTube Live include:
Gamers will often livestream themselves playing the latest video games and artists will sometimes livestream themselves completing a project.
Pro-Tip: Don’t be too concerned about perfection when it comes to your livestream. One of the biggest draw-ins of livestreams is that no one knows what’s going to happen live. It all just adds to the fun and creates a more personal relationship with your followers.
15. Add a YouTube widget to your website.
By adding a YouTube widget to the footer or sidebar of your website, anyone who visits your site will be able to see and engage with your videos. This can turn site clicks into views for your content. It will also encourage interested visitors to subscribe to your channel.
Pro-Tip: Many website-hosting platforms have their own free YouTube widgets you can easily embed onto your website.
Promoting your YouTube channel doesn’t have to be a financial liability. As you can see, there are many ways to expand your audience reach, find your niche, and promote your content without spending a dime. Now that you have some free promotional ideas, you’re ready to craft the perfect marketing plan to grow your channel.