Thought Leadership

For advertisers looking for more than just reach on YouTube, using “TrueView” ads is a must for any paid media strategy. So called “TrueView instream ads” give you the option to skip the ad 5 seconds into it. The benefits and strategy of using TrueView become clear once you understand how they operate behind the scenes.

The Relationship Between Viral Videos and TrueView

A TrueView ad is hosted as a video on YouTube. This means that it is eligible for a public view count on YouTube and can be as long or as short as you want. Any uploaded video, as long as it meets YouTube’s guidelines, can be run as TrueView. Often times, ads designed to go viral are run as TrueView because any user that chooses to watch more than 30 seconds of it counts as a view, and quickly gaining attention in the first week of a video’s release is paramount towards it earning views and going viral.

A formula for when branded videos go viral on YouTube is when those views are a combination of paid views and social sharing. Brands take advantage of the ability to build up views and exposure quickly through TrueView, and then media outlets and social sharing takes over.

In December 2013, Google looked at over 6,000 campaigns and noticed that this group generated “at least one earned view as a result of every two paid views.” While this buy 2 get 1 free model is great for building momentum, it should be noted that results may vary based on quality of the content and audience.

Moreover, TrueView performance can be surprising, as we’ve found that often times a 10+ minute video can see significantly higher time-adjusted engagement rates than a 30 second spot. Ultimately, the market adjusts to support the content that works best.

TrueView and Engagement

TrueView in-stream is YouTube’s ad format that lends itself to higher engagement because viewers have a choice after five seconds to watch or to “skip ad.” To that regard, it means that the first five seconds are crucial to determining if a viewer is going to engage or disengage with the ad.

You only pay for the views from users that choose to watch 30 seconds or more of your ad. In essence, with TrueView, advertisers only pay for their engaged viewers, not for impressions. TrueView also comes with a dashboard like those for YouTube videos, where advertisers can track engagement across what they are running as TrueView.

This means that you can easily find out which ads are performing better than others, and what parts of the ads lose audience interest. Saatchi & Saatchi writes about using TrueView for earned engagement, noting that recall on TrueView in-stream ads are effective because “a conscious decision is made to skip a YouTube ad and therefore the ad-recall is said to be 34% higher than TV.” If a viewer chooses not to skip the ad, the recall for the content of the ad is higher because simply presenting viewers with a choice forces more engagement.

With that in mind, they recommend a TrueView strategy, writing, “If this is the case, one would think the first 5 seconds should definitely include branding, however curiosity drives the majority of viewers to continue watching, so test your video strategies, build granular targets, segment ad types, remember YouTube remarketinguse impression capping on In-Stream ads and apply unique bidding strategies to get the best results.”

Some brands go so far as to call out the format of the ad itself, telling audiences to skip the ad, and pointing out the button on the screen. This humor of acknowledgement gets audiences to stick around, even though they are being asked not to. Here’s an example of the opposite situation – openly begging people not to skip:

As you’ll notice with the video above, TrueView is an optimal ad format for marketers who love analytics and engagement because the ads themselves are YouTube videos, giving you the same types of dashboards that YouTube creators get.

TrueView and Earned Actions

A big part of the draw of TrueView is the potential for earned actions. An earned action is any further brand interaction beyond either waiting for the ad to end, or clicking the skip button. Google notes,

“So if you’re an advertiser, you can see how many people stayed on your channel to watch more videos, subscribed to your channel, added your video to a playlist, or shared your video with a friend after watching a TrueView ad.”

These are all earned actions. You made an ad that captured the attention of viewers, ran it in front of the right audience, and put it on a social platform ideal for sharing, curating and engaging with video.

Why do you care about earned actions?

Earned actions expand the reach of your ad spend. They also provide insights about the relationship viewers have with your brand. Those that take earned actions are further along in becoming a brand loyalist which is only a couple of steps away from brand evangelist. YouTube as a platform, and influencers on it, serve as an extension of word-of-mouth marketing for many brands.

TrueView, in addition to helping ads go viral, is also a more memorable and engaging ad format, and if it’s done right, can lead to more interaction with your brand on and off YouTube.


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Paid media is the necessary third part of a successful, and complete, YouTube strategy. We have already assembled some of the best resources for both owned media and earned media, so now here are some resources to help strengthen your paid media strategy. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for all the latest tips on YouTube marketing.

Paid Media Guides From Google/YouTube

First up is a collection of resources provided to advertisers by both Google and YouTube, which includes some of their tools and best practices for paid media.

1. YouTube Advertising Overview

An overview of everything YouTube has to offer its advertisers. Can’t go wrong starting here:

Paid Media Resources YouTube

“Deliver your message to the right people at the right time with video ads. Every business has an audience on YouTube.”


2. Google Support – Display ads on YouTube

Pulled from the Google AdWords Certification Exam Study Guides, this particular section is filled with great paid media topics just for YouTube, and there’s plenty to dig your teeth into. One example: a breakdown of the differences between Auction and Reserved Media Buys on YouTube:

“As a part of the Google Display Network, YouTube allows advertisers to leverage the AdWords’ auction-based system to target specific YouTube content.”

To find out what exactly Auction and Reserved Media Buys are, and when to use one over the other, click here.

3. Google Video Ads – Step-by-Step Guide 

Google walks advertisers through the process of creating a campaign on YouTube in this handy guide for AdWords.
Paid Media Resources YouTube

4. YouTube In-Stream Ads: Captivate Your Audience [PDF]

paid media resources youtube 5
YouTube explains the different kinds of in-stream ads, while assessing the benefits of each in this excellent, 2 page PDF.

“Target viewers by geography, demographic criteria, or topic to make sure that your ads reach the right audience and get the attention they deserve.”


5. YouTube Advertising Resources

So, if you were being thorough as you worked through each of these resources, you should have already found this page from the very first “YouTube Overview” resource. But, we felt it was important enough to highlight again just in case you got lazy. This is a well curated selection of resources that YouTube maintains for advertisers.

“YouTube works hard to provide a reliable home for your brand. We have systems in place to categorize videos, and Community Guidelines, so that ads can be matched with appropriate content.”


6. Mastering AdWords for Video Tutorial Series [Videos]

Last but not least from Google/YouTube, we have this video series. Though slightly outdated, given that a few of the videos have been taken down, there’s still a lot of valuable info here:

Paid Media Tips From Blogs

Next, we have some tips from expert blogs on how to maximize paid media strategies.

7. ClickZ | YouTube Paid Advertising – A Beginners Guide

Here we have ClickZ’s fifth most read article of 2013, and a solid argument in favor of advertising with TrueView Ads:

“According to YouTube, over six billion hours of video are watched each month on the video search engine … This presents enormous opportunity for brands to promote their goods and services to a worldwide audience through video advertising on the world’s second largest search engine.”

See the full extent of what the author of the piece, Benjamin Spiegel, has to say about TrueView here.


8. ZEFR Blog | YouTube Ad Formats 101: Where to Advertise and Why

Read our explanation of the various types of ads available on YouTube, and learn when to use which ads depending on the objectives of your paid media campaign.

“Pairing the right ad placements with your specific objective is the most fundamental way to make sure you’re getting the most value out of your marketing budget. Here’s a brief guide that lays out which ad formats to use for some of the most common KPIs on YouTube.”


9. ReelSEO | The YouTube Advertiser Playbook Index and Overview

ReelSEO breaks down and indexes all 9 parts of the YouTube Advertiser Playbook, with a brief description of each section, and a link to their coverage on it.

“Titles, keywords, descriptions.  Things that describe the video so that a search engine can find context.  Perhaps there will be one day where computers can scan a video and tell you all of the contents of it, but for now, writing the relevant metadata is important in video discovery.”


10. Tubefilter | Meet the Top 1% of YouTube’s “Google Preferred” Channels for Advertisers

Tubefilter investigates YouTube’s new offering for advertisers, Google Preferred.

“Brands and marketers who commit to buying advertising space on YouTube in advance will reportedly be given the opportunity to advertise against these select few Google Preferred channels.”

What precisely is Google Preferred and how will it impact paid media? Read the full article to find out.

11. ZEFR’s Introductory Guide to Brand Integration on YouTube [eBook]

Get our latest eBook here to learn the ins and outs of brand integration deals and how they can supplement a paid media campaign.

Paid Media Resources YouTube

12. Business Insider | This Chart Breaks Down Why Advertisers Need YouTube

Paid Media Resources YouTube

“With 1 billion unique users every month, YouTube has become a necessary platform in virtually any marketing plan. MDG Advertising created an infographic that breaks down all the numbers that explain why advertisers need to be on the video sharing site.”

Check out the awesome chart in its entirety here.


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Thought Leadership

Why many brands aren’t getting the full picture of their YouTube viewership

Guest post by Dane Golden

beyond view obsession
Stats from YouTube’s highest viewed video, Gangnam Style

You have a problem, but you don’t know about it yet. You are your company’s Chief Marketing Officer, and you’ve been rating your YouTube success by looking at a single number. And it’s the wrong number – or, at least, one that can be very misleading. Unfortunately, you have been praying to a false god, and its name, simply put, is “Views.” Yes, many CMOs still gauge campaign success with this single metric in mind. But when is a view not a view? Are some views worth more than others? And what other numbers should you be looking for?

Subscribers, not Views, are the Holy Grail for Marketers

The most important number for a YouTube channel is not views. It’s subscribers. While views are one of several important factors, it is the YouTube subscriber count, not an individual video’s views, that is the indicator most analogous to the Facebook page Like or the Twitter Follower. Because like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, YouTube is a social media platform – the second most popular social media network, in fact, after Facebook. The brands making best use of YouTube today understand this, and act accordingly. The others, unfortunately, see YouTube as just another broadcast distribution network. Each social media platform has its own advantages and idiosyncrasies, and there’s never a one-to one relationship between community size and community engagement. On YouTube, it’s clear that Viewcount is the best indicator of past views. But subscriber count is the best indicator of future views. And subscriber growth is absolutely essential for a brand that wants repeat organic viewership. So, how do you get more subscribers for your channel? The answer is simple – have an engaging channel. Easier said than done, perhaps, but there are a number of key factors in engagement, and we’ll emphasize three of them: audience retention, comments, and engaging with your superfans, or as YouTube calls them, “Top Fans.”

1) Audience Retention Reality

YouTube video views are an interesting and important number, but they don’t come close to telling the full story about a video’s effectiveness in marketing your brand. Audience retention, for one, is a great way to bring this point home. Many brands run targeted YouTube TrueView campaigns. TrueView is a version of Google AdWords that serves YouTube videos as various types of ads on the YouTube platform (and the primary way most YouTube entertainment channels – aka YouTubers – make revenue). But in many cases, the video content itself is not engaging to the viewers. It doesn’t resonate with viewers, and it’s not prompting them to have a conversation about the topic. So viewers are not watching the video all the way through. It isn’t surprising, or shouldn’t be, that all viewers are not watching every YouTube ad to the end. If we DVR a video at home, we skip through the ads if they don’t interest us. That same behavior applies to YouTube as well. But the surprise is that we, as marketers, often confuse a “view” with a “completed view.” Far from it. While YouTube doesn’t publicize how much of a video someone has to watch for it to count as a view, experts agree that it’s just a few seconds.

Try this: When logged in to your YouTube account, click on this link, which takes you to your channel’s audience retention numbers. Then, go to the search box and search for the title of your latest video. What comes up may surprise you. Below is a graph of a YouTube Analytics audience retention report for a video that ran some paid views through YouTube’s TrueView. Even if you have seen these audience retention reports before, you may not have seen this newer version, released in the past few weeks, which breaks out paid and organic views for videos viewed after Sept. 25, 2013. (Find out more about the new features here).

Audience retention Disregarding the “Average view duration” numbers at the top, which can be deceptive if you’ve run paid promotion, what we’re seeing above is a video that had good organic audience retention. But, this may have been a much smaller number of viewers who were searching on the specific topic, or had subscribed to the channel. And we see, importantly, that most of the viewers who saw the video as a pre-roll (aka in-stream) video ad only viewed up to about six seconds. Why six seconds? Because after five seconds they have an option to click off of the ad, and it takes an extra second to press the “Skip Ad” link. And while advertisers don’t pay for people who click off early, the evidence is clear: Your high viewcount may be lulling you into a false sense of security about your YouTube channel.

And if you see an audience retention level that sinks like this after just a few seconds, either your video doesn’t resonate with the YouTube audience or you aren’t targeting the right audience within YouTube. But assuming targeting is done correctly on a campaign like this, your video itself is just not working for one reason or another. This analysis in no way denigrates the value of YouTube TrueView. TrueView is a valuable way of bringing your message to viewers who may want to know about you, but don’t yet. And of course in all promotion, however targeted, there will be some that is ineffective or reaches someone who isn’t interested. The challenge is that it’s very easy for a marketing department to just see a high viewcount standing by itself and say: “Boom, we made our numbers!” However, they don’t realize that those viewcounts, driven in campaigns via YouTube TrueView or other means, may have very little audience retention. The majority of paid views only get a fraction of viewers watching all the way to the very end of the videos.

And while there is a strong case to be made for campaigns which cast a wide net in hopes of finding an audience that connects with their videos, these campaigns are most effective using a wide-eyed approach with an understanding of the deeper analytics. Since TrueView only charges the advertiser for videos after the viewer watches more than 29 seconds, an effective marketer, if the data were available, should really break out a third category of views (in addition to paid views and organic views) called “Campaign-Driven Free Views.” This category is for anything less than 30 seconds, where the campaign didn’t have to pay for the view, but viewers only watched partial videos. Ideally, the TrueView analytics shouldn’t break out viewership by 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% of the video viewed, but rather break it out by 5 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, and 100%. Depending on your budget, you may want to test your next promotional video with focus groups before the next release.

Alternately, you can produce a number of videos and just see which one works best. And there are a number of lessons to be learned from the content programming strategies of content creators, aka YouTubers, and from brands like GoPro, RedBull, Zagg, and Orabrush. Given a large enough budget, you can always equal the view count of a previous TrueView campaign. Which is fine – it’s your job to get attention to your brand, and TrueView is an incredible tool for jumpstarting a campaign. But rather than using YouTube simply to distribute videos many people don’t want to see, why not instead use TrueView to prime the pump of engaging videos that will have greater shareability, and build upon that success further by engaging the viewers through all social media means necessary? On YouTube, engagement means having a conversation. And to have a conversation, you need to make good use of the YouTube comments section.

2) Comments Are The New Likes

One need only look at the uproar about the recent Google+ integration to understand how important comments are to top YouTube channels. There’s been such an outcry that, in the end, the needs of YouTube channels may very well soon be driving Google+ features, instead of the other way around. So comments on YouTube are extremely important, and often overlooked in the marketer’s YouTube strategy. Since subscriber numbers are the best indicator of future views, and viewer engagement is the No. 1 way to build that subscriber base, then the YouTube comment field is the best place to build that engagement. Congratulations – you, the marketer, are no longer just distributing videos, but you are now moderating conversations about your videos, and about your brand. Because while television is about communication of one to many, YouTube is about two-way conversation.

This means both conversations with your brand and conversations about your brand. And while you, the moderator, are a large voice, in the end you are just one of many. You can only moderate the conversation, not control it. And that’s frightening to those who’ve cut their teeth on TV commercials and more traditional branding. But, of course, these conversations about your brand are happening already, on your Facebook and Twitter and Instagram accounts. And while these platforms are each important in their way, only conversations on the YouTube platform will help build your YouTube engagement and subscriber base. So YouTube comments are the best way to continue discussions about your videos when seeking to build YouTube channel engagement. Basically, if you’re not having a conversation with your YouTube viewers, your video is just having a conversation with itself. YouTube Likes (aka “Thumbs Ups”), while a key metric, pale in comparison to the value of comments from an engaged user. This goes for positive or negative feedback. That’s why moderating, and encouraging dialog, on your YouTube channel is equally as important as moderating on your Twitter and Facebook channels. YouTube moderation will only increase in value as the integration with Google+ continues. Because, the current outrage of YouTubers aside, Google+ commenting integration is surely here to stay.  

3) Top Fans

Wouldn’t it be great if you could find out who the top 500 fans were of your brand’s TV commercials? Well with YouTube, you can. This past summer, Google introduced a feature called “Top Fans,” which, not surprisingly, also heavily integrates Google+. Initially rolled out only for channels with more than 5,000 subscribers, the Top Fans feature has been gradually opening up to members with over 2,000 subscribers. To find out if you currently have access to Top Fans, visit The Top Fans feature enables you to rank your channel’s most engaged and influential viewers. You can sort the table by the viewer’s engagement level or number of subscribers. After connecting your channel to Google+, you can group top fans into circles, which could be helpful when targeting a particular message to them, as you can by sending them a Google+ message. Additionally, you may chose to invite your fans to a Google Hangout or sign up for your newsletter. Or you may want to reward top fans with a gift certificate. Whatever your chosen engagement strategy, the Top Fans feature opens up a variety of opportunities for engaging your fans via both YouTube and the now-mind-melded Google+. Again, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the painful Google+/YouTube integration, but it’s going to happen one way or another, so best to get on board with Google+ earlier than the competition so you have it figured out before they do.

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Dane Golden is an independent YouTube brand strategist and audience growth consultant, and the founder of He co-hosts the weekly YouTube marketing podcast TubeTalk.

Want to guest write for the ZEFR Blog? Details here.


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