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How to build an audience

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Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

Nothing you do matters if people aren’t watching. You won’t need a million subscribers to see returns, but a sufficiently large or sufficiently dedicated audience is key. Depending on whom you attract, some revenue streams will work out better than others.

When designing your channel, you need to find a niche that you enjoy and others will find valuable. You’ll get the best results if your content can be made quickly but is still worth following on a regular or even daily basis.

To get more hits, try using descriptive titles that include popular keywords. That will give people and search engines a clear idea of what your video is about. Adding tags will also help. For example, if your video is about baking, use specific words that relate to your video, such as chocolate chips.

Inviting guest YouTubers on your channel — or appearing on someone else’s — can be a huge boost. They’ll have their own followers who will now know about you and the content you provide.

Lastly, paying for YouTube ads can get costly but will allow you to directly target prospective viewers. If you target the topic of “house pets,” your video will appear before all those people watching cat videos.

Once you have a growing audience, you can look into one or more of the following monetization methods. None of them is especially stable, so if you're hoping to make YouTube a career, you may want to seek the advice of a certified financial planner. The ones at Facet Wealth have plans specifically designed for millennials.

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How to earn money through advertising

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When most people think about monetizing YouTube, they imagine themselves creating good content and watching the ad dollars pour in. While that is a viable path, there's a bit more to it than that.

First you’ll need to sign up for a Google AdSense account, connect it to your channel and enable monetization. Once you have enough viewers watching and clicking on ads, a few pennies will start to trickle into your account.

Then you’ll want to join the YouTube Partner Program. You don’t need to join to use AdSense, but the program offers access to other income streams, like YouTube Premium’s subscription fees and Super Chat.

To apply for the YouTube Partner Program, you’ll need a minimum of 4,000 “valid public watch hours” in the last 12 months, more than 1,000 subscribers and a linked AdSense account.

How to maximize your advertising dollars

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pathdoc / Shutterstock

While it’s easy enough to get set up, the challenge is building a channel that pulls valuable ads while sustaining enough viewers to engage with those ads.

Not all ads pay the same amount. A lot of factors can affect the dollar value, including the topic of your videos. Before you begin creating, research the value of different AdSense niches and see whether your content aligns. Insurance and online education are among the most valuable.

AdSense also favors videos it considers “safe.” That means avoiding content that can be sexually suggestive, contains violence or profanity or drugs or covers controversial and sensitive subjects. Otherwise, Google can exclude you from revenue.

For example, a channel focusing on environmental politics might not make bank, but tips on how to live green (buying an electric vehicle, cutting down on waste or making your home energy efficient) might do better.

Since greater authority and popularity mean more ad revenue, this method for monetizing your YouTube channel is a longer-term play. However, you have other options for scoring returns sooner.

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How to make money without ads

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Whether they want to be more independent or are put off by the restrictive nature of what Google considers “safe,” YouTubers employ multiple ways to make money. Here are some popular alternatives to running ads:

SuperChat donations

This method is available to creators who are willing and able to perform live. While watching your stream, viewers can donate to pin a comment to the top of the chat window.

SuperChat works well with Q&A sessions, interviews and gaming — anything that gives your audience a chance to participate and hear back from you.

YouTube Premium

Viewers who pay to sign up for YouTube Premium get to watch videos ad-free, along with other perks.

That doesn’t mean content creators get cheated; instead of getting a cut of ad revenue, you’ll get a cut of the subscription fee from any premium users watching your videos.

Keep in mind, this is not a big income source.

Affiliate and influencer marketing

Even moderately popular YouTubers can make good money by talking up products. You might get paid purely for the act of promoting a product, or you might provide your viewers a link to an online store that will net you a commission from each sale.

The best salespeople will weave offers into their usual content in ways that feel natural and benefit their viewers. For example, someone who lost 50 pounds in three months could talk about the vitamin supplements they took during the process. A good product review or comparison could also lead to strong affiliate revenue.

The key here is not the size of your audience but an authentic relationship with viewers who trust your authority. Just remember to disclose that your video is #sponsored.

Selling merchandise

Working with affiliates might not be your thing, but don’t sweat it. You might have a penchant for selling your own products instead, whether that’s T-shirts, mugs, artwork or something else entirely.

Selling merchandise works for creators with a recognizable brand or at least a style their viewers will readily identify with. It’s an extra challenge on top of making content that will constantly drive new traffic to see your merchandise.

If you’re not crafty, you’re in luck. It’s a lot easier for individuals to do merchandising in the modern age. You can work together with freelancers on marketplace websites like Fiverr to design and produce products, then use services like Oberlo to handle shipping.


If your viewers find your content especially valuable, you can simply ask them for support. It’s a simple exchange, really: They get to enjoy the videos they love, and you get paid to make more.

That said, it’s easier to entice people to support you if you offer extra bonuses like private Q&A sessions or exclusive videos.

Some crowdfunding sites like Patreon ask people to set up a subscription that charges them every month or every time you post a video. Other sites, like Tipeee, offer one-time donations as well.

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About the Author

Caitlin Cochrane

Caitlin Cochrane

Former Staff Writer

Caitlin Cochrane was formerly a staff writer with MoneyWise, and has an educational background in human resource management and professional writing. When she is not writing, she is at home drinking tea and playing with her bunnies.

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The content provided on Moneywise is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.