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Hi! I'm Ben

How to turn YouTube into a performance machine

Published about 1 year ago • 7 min read

This week I want to talk about YouTube. It’s the second largest search engine in the world. More than 2 billion people use it every month.

But so few performance marketers are using it to grow their business. And I’d like to change that and help you see the enormous opportunities available on the channel.

From what I’ve gathered throughout my time at Google, these are the most common reasons why advertisers aren’t leveraging YouTube to drive sales for their business:

  • Lack of creative
  • Need to prove profitable return
  • It’s tough to measure
  • Tried it before it didn’t work

Below is my plan (and here’s a video) to highlight how important I believe it is for performance marketers to be on YouTube while addressing those common concerns to help you see the light and unlock your next growth lever with Google:

First some clarifiers, I’m not suggesting that you move all the way up the funnel and try to build a huge brand.

I just want you to move up one stage, and start to influence some decision making.


It sounds so simple to say… but to sell something to someone, you need to engage with them first.

Because if marketing has one goal, it should be to reach consumers at the moments that most influence their decisions.

Majority of brands (now more than ever) need to be laser-focused on the bottom portion of this funnel, capturing sales from people who have already made some decisions about what they want to buy.

That’s because bottom-of-funnel marketing has plenty of volume, is the most profitable, and it’s easy to measure. The buying cycle is incredibly short and usually directly attributable to a click.

Your CFO loves it.

But this method of marketing, in and of itself, is a very difficult and costly way to grow your business.

Not only are you always going to be paying for sales but you’ll inevitably hit a ceiling in how much you can afford to grow. And I’m sure many of you already have.

When you reach that point, the options to continue your growth become quite limited. You can increase your prices to protect your margins (not fun), lower your growth goals (less fun), or exit your business at a bleak valuation (even less fun).

Now, you might think that investing in higher-funnel marketing activities increases your marketing costs. But it doesn’t. It lowers them.

How? Because it builds up the awareness and perception of your brand so you can capture more organic sales and start to diversify away from the performance marketing death-spiral.

It also boosts the performance of your bottom-funnel campaigns. In fact, on average, we see Search conversion volume increase by 8% and CPAs reduce by 4% for advertisers that run on YouTube and Search.

And yeah maybe you’re doing this concept with Facebook and TikTok with some success but you need to realize the insanely precise targeting offered by a platform like YouTube coupled with the benefit of its connection to Search/Shopping.

Social platforms are targeting people based on their interests, demographics, and similarities to various cohorts. And with the recent data loss, this is less effective than ever.

And guess what… most of the people you reach on Social end up coming to Google Search and YouTube before their purchase anyways.

Google & YouTube are where consumers come to ask questions and find the products they are seeking to purchase. This is why search marketing is your most effective but also your most expensive channel.

My bias aside, it’s literally the best audience that money can buy.

So while it’s expensive to reach these audiences at scale in Search, YOU CAN USE THAT SAME DATA OUTSIDE OF SEARCH.

Driving a video view on YouTube is literally $0.02.

You really just need one decent ad and some patience.

According to a 2009 McKinsey article (imagine how these numbers have evolved since), the number of brands under consideration during a consumer’s evaluation phase have actually started to expand rather than narrow as consumers have access to more information than ever as they shop a category.

McKinsey suggests that brands may ‘interrupt’ the decision-making process by entering into consideration and even force the exit of rivals. For example, their research showed that people actively evaluating skin care products added an average of 1.8 brands to their initial-consideration set of 1.5, while automobile shoppers added 2.2 to their initial set of 3.8.

This change in behavior creates opportunities for marketers by adding touch points when brands can make an impact. Brands already under consideration can no longer take that status for granted.

Anybody can do this. The hardest thing about doing it is literally just patience.

On the surface, I trust that that many of you know that this will work. You just haven’t been afforded or given it the time to truly test and find out.

And even if you have tested this before, did you really give it enough of a chance for it to work?

Ok ok, Ben so what are you suggesting?

Reframe the way you think about YouTube.

Billions of people watch a video on YouTube every month. Majority of them come to the platform with the intention of watching a specific video.

Because of that, a lot of ads are skipped and not clicked on.

So, for marketers using click-based attribution, YouTube doesn’t look good. So it gets cut.

That’s why when it comes to creative (more on this below), we heavily advise on making a strong impression within the first 5 seconds. Not only is it a free impression, but it’s getting your brand in front of millions of potential customers.

That’s also why I want you to forget measuring success here by using click-based attribution.

And instead use something that is usually directly correlated to sales and is rather easy to see and measure with the naked eye.

Brand search volume.


Across the hundreds of brands that I’ve worked with, branded search typically accounts for at least 30% of sales (and more when you include organic search & direct site traffic).

Branded Search is by far the most efficient and effective marketing line-item any of you will ever run. Go ahead and look at your numbers.

But only so many people are searching for your brand.

What if you could triple or quadruple those numbers in the next 6 months?

What would you need to show to your finance team to green light this test?

Here’s a plan for you (with a video walkthrough below):

  1. Quantify the value of one single search for your brand.
  2. Run YouTube in three small cities.
  3. See how much it costs to drive incremental searches for your brand.

If it’s less than the value of a search… congrats, you’ve just found your next growth lever.


The reason I’m suggesting to start this way is because it enables both short-term and long-term proof points and it’s a way to connect the upper funnel to the bottom.

Running this in a small geographic area not only provides for a low-cost way to test but also helps you visibly see the impact it’s having on your business.

It’s a way to sidestep attribution completely, and measure lifts in the KPIs that have actual value for you. Use Google Analytics or whatever source-of-truth you desire to see these metrics come to life over time in these markets in comparison to where you’re not activating:


I recently spoke to a subscription brand who ran one of these tests in August who saw a substantial difference when looking at performance on Black Friday results in the test markets compared to controls.

Proof that these things take time but do lead to better results with some patience.

Ok… back to getting you started.

Creative

Don’t invest in creating anything new for this test. I want you to see that YouTube can work with what you’ve got.

Go through your library of video assets and find three semi-decent videos that you think could work. Only have vertical videos? That’s fine, upload as-is for YouTube Shorts and ask your Google team to add your logos to the sides for a 16:9 visual.

Targeting

Three audiences: people similar to your best customers, people who have searched for your top performing keywords recently, and people in-market for your products/services.

Activation

We’re going to run a geo-test to help us see the effects.

Find a list of your top 30 performing cities. Remove major markets like Los Angeles and NYC and pull together a group of 6 cities that drive similar revenue, conversion rates, and AOVs.

Randomly choose three of them as test and three as control.

Using the creative and targeting mentioned above, launch two campaigns in these cities: one focused on Reach (with 40% of your budget) and one focused on Action (with 60% of your budget).

To be able to detect a lift in performance, you’ll want to reach at least 30% of the population in these markets. So adjust your budgets accordingly by working with your Google team or using Reach Planner in Google Ads. I typically see $100,000 for 30/days as a good starting point.

Measurement

The goal here is to measure the difference between key metrics in the test groups vs. the control groups.

As mentioned above, the north-star KPI is brand search volume. You can measure changes in volume in the test/control markets by looking at your impressions of your brand search ad pre/post campaign and/or you can ask your Google team for a more in-depth look at total volume of searches in the markets.

With the known value of a search for your brand in hand, you can now quantify the incremental impact gained from this investment by comparing the delta between the test and control markets like so:


So in this example, if the value of a search for this brand is worth $4 and we assume the test markets would have behaved like the control, we can quantity the incremental value here and begin to place a ROAS on an upper-funnel tactic.

Magic.

And then as time progresses, you can start to layer in additional key metrics from your business to gauge the incremental lifts gained from this endeavor:



Due to attribution and a variety of factors in today’s digital landscape, it’s not uncommon to see results like the ones above look wildly different from what’s seen in the ad platform.

So, in conclusion, those that solely rely on click-based or other rules-based attribution to guide their decision making are likely missing out on a world of potential.

Of course this methodology is not guaranteed and your mileage may vary but this gives you a much more holistic view of the halo-effect driven from a new campaign added to your marketing stack.

Hi! I'm Ben

I’m a CMO (and former Googler) helping DTC brands and online retailers make sense of the things that matter. Subscribe to my newsletter for my unique perspectives, relevant data, and ways to grow your business.

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