YouTube Mistakes: What NOT to Do When Starting a YouTube Channel

Having a successful YouTube channel can be incredibly rewarding. However, many creators, particularly those just starting a YouTube channel, struggle with growth, often wondering why their content isn’t getting the traction they desire.

In this article, I’ll dissect the crucial elements that contribute to a YouTube channel’s growth, drawing from my personal experiences and insights as a content creator.

Kim Cooper
Director of Marketing, Amazon Alexa

Single Grain enables us to increase our impact without increasing our headcount

Work With Us

Mastering Thumbnail Creation

Thumbnails should not merely repeat the video’s title; they need to stand out. And incorporating elements of controversy or curiosity can be effective.

A compelling thumbnail I once used for a video called “The End of Twitter, Threads Gets Over 100 Million Users in 5 Days,” read: “Is Threads Killing Twitter?” It sparked curiosity and a touch of controversy, which are key to attracting viewers – which this did:


For thumbnail creation, here’s what NOT to do:

❌ Don’t cram too many elements into the thumbnail. Overly busy or cluttered thumbnails can be confusing and off-putting, making it hard for viewers to quickly grasp what the video is about.

❌ Avoid using images or text that don’t accurately reflect the content of your video. Misleading thumbnails may increase initial clicks, but they can also lead to viewer dissatisfaction and harm your reputation.

❌ Don’t use blurry, low-resolution, or irrelevant images. Poor image quality or irrelevant visuals can make your content seem unprofessional and discourage viewers from clicking.

✅ The Art of Curiosity and Controversy ✅ 

These tips will help you master the art of thumbnail creation:

  • Use High-Quality Images: Your thumbnail should be crisp and clear, even when viewed on small screens. High-resolution images are more appealing and professional-looking.
  • Incorporate Intriguing Visuals: Choose visuals that spark curiosity or hint at controversy without revealing too much. This could be an unexpected image, a mysterious scene or an emotional facial expression. People are naturally drawn to human expressions, especially those that suggest an intriguing story:
  • Contrast and Bright Colors: Utilize bright colors and high contrast to make your thumbnail stand out in a sea of other videos. This helps catch the viewer’s eye quickly.
  • Minimal Text, Maximum Impact: If you use text, keep it brief and impactful. Choose large, readable fonts and limit the text to a few words that complement the visual and provoke curiosity or hint at a debate.
  • Align with Video Content: Make sure your thumbnail accurately represents the content of your video. Misleading thumbnails can lead to viewer disappointment and harm your credibility.
  • Brand Consistency: If you have a series of videos or a distinct style, maintaining consistency in your thumbnails can help in building brand recognition.
  • Avoid Clickbait Tactics: While curiosity and controversy are effective, avoid misleading or sensationalized thumbnails. They should tease the content without over-promising or misrepresenting.
  • Test Different Styles: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles and formats to see what resonates best with your audience.

Remember: The thumbnail is often the first impression potential viewers have of your video, so it plays a crucial role in attracting clicks and viewers.

Here’s a look at my Marketing School YouTube channel thumbnails:


The Importance of Headlines and Descriptions

The headlines and descriptions of your videos are more than just packaging – they’re your first interaction with potential viewers. Creating effective headlines and descriptions is crucial in attracting and retaining viewers on YouTube. These elements serve as key factors in how your videos are discovered and perceived.

If your channel isn’t performing well, it’s time to reassess these elements. Treat each video as an asset and continually ask yourself: How can this asset perform better?

Here’s what NOT to do with your headlines:

❌ Don’t use exaggerated or sensational headlines that don’t accurately reflect the video content. This can lead to viewer disappointment and damage your credibility.

❌ Avoid neglecting search engine optimization (SEO) in your headlines and descriptions. Failing to use relevant keywords and phrases can make your video less discoverable.

❌ Avoid having sparse or generic descriptions that don’t offer additional value or context. A lack of a detailed description can miss the opportunity to engage the viewer further or provide important information.

✅ Writing Compelling Headlines and Descriptions ✅ 

Here’s how to make the most of your headlines and descriptions:

  • Make Your Headlines Clear and Relevant: Your headline should clearly indicate what the video is about. Avoid vague or overly generic titles. The title should be directly relevant to the content of the video.
  • Incorporate Keywords Strategically: Use relevant keywords in both your headline and description. This improves searchability and helps your video appear in relevant searches. However, avoid keyword stuffing; keep it natural and viewer-friendly.
  • Create Intrigue Without Misleading: The headline should be intriguing enough to make viewers want to click, but it should not mislead or promise something the video doesn’t deliver.
  • Use Descriptions to Provide Context and Details: The description should give viewers a clear idea of what to expect in the video. It’s also a great place to provide additional context, background information, or links to related content or resources.
  • Use Timestamps for Longer Videos: For lengthy videos, include timestamps in the description. This helps viewers navigate to the sections that most interest them.
  • Include a Call to Action: Encourage viewers to like, comment, share or subscribe within your description. You can also direct them to other relevant videos or playlists.
  • Optimize for Mobile Viewing: Remember that many viewers will be on mobile devices. Ensure your headline and first few lines of your description are impactful even on smaller screens.
  • Update Descriptions for Ongoing Relevance: Periodically revisit and update your video descriptions to keep them current, especially if they include time-sensitive information or links.
  • Brand Consistency: Maintain a consistent tone and style in your headlines and descriptions. This helps in building a recognizable brand voice.

Remember: Your headline and description are not just information for your viewers, but also crucial tools for YouTube’s search and recommendation algorithms. Optimizing them can significantly affect your video’s performance and visibility.

Work With Us

The Crucial First 30 Seconds

The opening moments of your video are pivotal. They need to hook the viewer with something intriguing, controversial or curiosity-provoking. Failure to capture attention in the first 30 seconds can lead to viewers clicking away. If a video starts without an engaging hook, it’s less likely to retain the viewer’s interest.

What NOT to do in the first 30 seconds of your video:

❌ Don’t begin with a lengthy introduction or unrelated content. Starting with slow, irrelevant or overly general information can quickly bore viewers and prompt them to click away.

❌ While it’s important to introduce yourself or your channel, avoid spending too much time on self-promotion, requests for likes and subscribes or extensive personal anecdotes that don’t directly relate to the video’s main topic.

❌ Avoid using clickbait or misleading hooks that don’t accurately represent the content of your video. This can frustrate viewers and damage your credibility and the trust of your audience.

✅ Hook Your Audience Immediately ✅ 

These tips will help you captivate your audience right from the start of your YouTube video:

  • Start with a Teaser: Begin your video with a preview or a teaser of the most exciting part. This can be a surprising fact, an impressive demonstration, or a compelling question. It gives the audience a reason to stay and watch more.
  • Ask a Provocative Question: Pose a thought-provoking question to your viewers. This encourages them to think and become curious about what your video has to offer as a solution or explanation. For example: “What if your smartphone could predict your future? Not just your schedule or your habits, but your actual future events. How would that change your life?”
  • Use an Intriguing Statement or Fact: Open with a statement or fact that is unexpected or little-known. This can pique the interest of the viewer and make them want to learn more. For example: Did you know that there are more public libraries in the United States than McDonald’s restaurants? That’s right – over 16,000 libraries compared to about 14,000 McDonald’s outlets.”
  • Create a Sense of Urgency: Convey to the audience that the information or content you are about to present is timely, urgent, or highly relevant to their interests or current events.
  • Tell a Story: Start with a short, relatable story or anecdote. This can create an emotional connection and draw viewers into the narrative of your video.
  • Show a Striking Visual or Graphic: Use an eye-catching visual or graphic that stands out. This visual element can grab attention and be a lead-in to your main content.
  • Challenge Common Beliefs: Present an idea or opinion that challenges commonly held beliefs. This can intrigue viewers and prompt them to watch further to understand your perspective.
  • Personalize the Introduction: Address the audience directly and create a personal connection. Use phrases like “Have you ever wondered…” or “You might be surprised to learn…”.
  • Offer a Promise: Clearly state what the viewer will gain by watching the video. This could be learning something new, solving a problem, or being entertained.
  • Use Humor or Wit: A light-hearted joke, witty remark or humorous scenario can be very effective in making a memorable first impression. The Poo-Pourri commercial does this very well.

Remember: The goal of the hook is to immediately engage the viewer’s interest and give them a compelling reason to keep watching your video beyond the first 30 seconds.

Engage the Viewer with Relevant and Interesting Content

Audience engagement goes beyond just catching the viewer’s attention. It’s about keeping them interested and involved throughout your video. Your content should be relevant and interesting to your audience.

Take, for example, a video on event marketing. It’s not enough to simply convey information; you must present it in a manner that’s both informative and gripping. This involves discovering the perfect angle or hook that resonates with the viewers that would click on a video like this. Perhaps you add unique insights, a fresh perspective or an interactive format.

Here’s what NOT to do when trying to engage your audience:

❌ Avoid straying too far from your main subject, especially in a niche like event marketing. Viewers clicked for specific content, and diverging too much can lead to loss of interest.

❌ Don’t present your information in a monotonous tone or repeat the same points excessively. This can make the content dull and cause viewers to lose interest.

❌ While it’s important to be informative, avoid overwhelming your audience with too much information at once. Dense, unbroken blocks of content can be hard to digest and may discourage continued viewing.

✅ Retaining Audience Interest ✅ 

Here are some tips to help retain audience interest throughout your video:

  • Identify and Address Your Audience’s Needs: Understand what your audience is seeking from your content. For a topic like event marketing, viewers might be looking for innovative strategies, industry insights or practical tips – as in our Marketing School video “The Biggest Lesson Neil Learned From Sending Out 255 Million Emails”:

  • Incorporate Storytelling Elements: Use storytelling to make your content more relatable and memorable. Stories can help illustrate points more effectively and keep the audience engaged.
  • Interact with Your Audience: Encourage viewer interaction. Ask questions, invite comments, or include polls in your video. This interaction can increase viewer investment in your content.
  • Use a Dynamic Presentation Style: Avoid a monotonous tone or static visuals. Use a mix of animations, graphics, and real-life examples to keep the content lively and engaging.
  • Keep Your Content Structured and Focused: Organize your video with clear, concise points. A well-structured video is easier to follow and keeps viewers engaged. Including chapters and/or time stamps helps a lot.
  • Use Humor or Light-Hearted Moments: When appropriate, incorporating humor or light-hearted segments can make otherwise dry or complex content more enjoyable and relatable.
  • End with a Strong Conclusion: Summarize key points and end on a high note to leave a lasting impression. This encourages viewers to return for more content.
  • Include Call-to-Actions: Direct your viewers with a clear and compelling CTA on what to do next, whether it’s watching another video, leaving a comment, or applying the tips you’ve shared.

Remember: Retaining audience interest is about creating a connection with your viewers. By delivering content that is not just relevant but also engaging and interactive, you’re much more likely to get a loyal viewer base – which will help you grow your YouTube channel.

Improving Click-Through Rate 

Taking action to increase the click-through rate of your YouTube videos is important because it directly influences how often your videos are recommended and viewed on the platform. A higher CTR indicates to YouTube’s algorithm that your content is engaging and relevant, prompting the platform to more frequently suggest your videos to potential viewers.

This increased visibility leads to more views, higher engagement, and potentially more subscriber. Essentially, a strong CTR is a key indicator of your video’s appeal to your target audience and is instrumental in expanding your video’s reach and growing your channel’s audience.

When it comes to your CTR, here’s what NOT to do:

❌ Avoid creating titles and thumbnails that don’t accurately represent the content of your video. This can lead to viewer frustration and distrust, harming your channel’s reputation and potentially leading to a decrease in viewer retention.

❌ Don’t neglect the insights provided by YouTube Analytics. Failing to analyze data such as audience demographics, watch time and engagement rates can prevent you from understanding what works for your audience.

❌ Avoid disregarding the comments and feedback from your viewers. Viewer comments can provide valuable insights into what your audience prefers and what they’d like to see more of. Ignoring this feedback can result in content that is less appealing to your audience, negatively impacting your CTR.

✅ Boosting Your Video’s CTR ✅ 

These tips can help retain audience interest throughout your video:

  • Leverage Video Tags Effectively: Use relevant tags in your video. These tags help YouTube understand the content and context of your video, making it more likely to be suggested to the right audience.
  • Optimize Video Descriptions: A well-crafted description with relevant keywords can improve your video’s discoverability. This, in turn, can lead to a higher CTR as more potential viewers come across your video. I already talked about writing great headlines and descriptions, but in this point I want to emphasize the importance of continually optimizing them if your video isn’t performing well.
  • Create Engaging Video Previews: YouTube allows creators to choose a segment of their video as a preview for mobile users. Selecting an engaging and representative segment can intrigue viewers and lead to higher CTR.
  • Use End Screens and Cards Effectively: End screens and cards that recommend your other videos can increase viewership and CTR by guiding viewers to your other relevant content.
  • Post at Optimal Times: Publishing your videos when your target audience is most active can lead to higher initial engagement, boosting the likelihood of your video being recommended to others. But in general, the best time to publish your video on YouTube is:
  • Engage with Your Audience: Actively responding to comments and engaging with viewers can create a loyal community, encouraging more clicks from subscribers.
  • Promote Videos on Other Platforms: Share your videos on social media, blogs, or forums relevant to your video’s topic. This can drive traffic from other sources and improve CTR.
  • Monitor Analytics for Insights: Regularly review your YouTube analytics to understand which videos have higher CTRs and why. Use these insights to inform your future content and optimization strategies.
  • Test and Iterate: Continuously experiment with different elements of your videos, including thumbnails, headlines, and even video length. Analyze the results to see what works best for your audience.

Remember: Move beyond relying solely on thumbnails and headlines to improve your YouTube video’s CTR to attract and retain viewer attention.

Work With Us

Diversify Your Video Format

YouTube Shorts can be an excellent avenue for rapid growth. These short-form videos are quick, snappy and often less resource-intensive to produce. They’re the platform’s answer to the TikTok phenomenon and are a great format for new creators or for testing new content ideas.

In this Marketing School YouTube Short, I quickly go over Mr. BEAST’s yacht video which garnered eight million views in the first 90 minutes with a 10.7% CTR.

Such statistics are testament to the power of well-crafted Shorts. The key is to create engaging, high-stakes content that compels viewers to watch.

When it comes to YouTube Shorts, here’s what NOT to do:

❌ Don’t simply cut segments from longer videos and post them as Shorts without considering the unique format and audience preferences of Shorts. They require content specifically tailored for brief and engaging experiences.

❌ Avoid creating Shorts in horizontal formats. YouTube Shorts are primarily consumed on mobile devices, and vertical videos are more engaging and user-friendly in this context.

❌ Don’t make your Shorts too slow-paced or lacking in energy. Shorts are meant to be quick and engaging, and a slower tempo might not hold the viewer’s attention in such a brief format.

✅ Making YouTube Shorts Work for You ✅ 

Here are some tips to make successful YouTube Shorts:

  • Focus on Immediate Engagement: Since Shorts are brief, it’s crucial to grab the viewer’s attention in the first few seconds. Start with something eye-catching or intriguing.
  • Keep It Concise and Direct: The content of your Short should be straightforward and to the point. Avoid unnecessary complexity or lengthy introductions.
  • Optimize for Vertical Viewing: Design your Shorts for a mobile-first audience. Ensure that your content is visually appealing and effective in a vertical format.

  • Create High-Energy Content: The nature of Shorts suits dynamic, high-energy content. Quick cuts, lively music, and engaging visuals can make your Short more compelling.
  • Use Effective Hashtags: Hashtags can improve the discoverability of your Shorts. Use relevant and trending hashtags to increase visibility.
  • Experiment with Different Content Types: Try different types of content to see what resonates with your audience – from quick tips to funny skits, or behind-the-scenes glimpses.
  • Leverage Trends and Challenges: Tap into current trends, common challenges or popular [fill in topic of choice] on the platform. This can increase the chances of your Short being discovered and shared.

  • Analyze and Adapt: Keep an eye on the performance of your Shorts and use these insights to refine your content strategy.
  • Cross-Promote with Your Longer Content: Use Shorts to drive traffic to your longer YouTube videos or vice versa. This can help in building a more comprehensive content ecosystem on your channel.
  • Incorporate a Clear Call to Action: Encourage viewers to engage with your content – like, share, comment, or follow your channel for more.

Remember: The key to successful YouTube Shorts lies in creating content that is not only engaging and high-stakes but also tailored for the quick and casual consumption habits of the Shorts audience.

The Power of Storytelling

Effective storytelling is crucial in any content format, including videos. If possible, include some storytelling in your video, even when you think the subject doesn’t call for it. Good storytelling can transform your videos from simple presentations of information to captivating experiences that resonate with your audience.

For example, in a video about a technical subject like programming, instead of just diving into code, you could start by sharing a brief story about how a particular programming challenge led to the discovery of an innovative solution. This approach not only makes the content more relatable, but also helps to engage the viewer by framing the technical information within a real-world context.

Here’s what NOT to do when it comes to storytelling in your videos:

❌ Avoid using overly complex or convoluted storylines that can confuse the viewer or detract from the main message of your video. Keep the narrative straightforward and easy to follow.

❌ Don’t include stories that have no clear connection to your video’s topic. Irrelevant storytelling can distract the viewer and dilute the impact of your content.

❌ Although storytelling is a powerful tool, it should not overshadow the primary content of your video. Ensure that the narrative enhances, rather than dominates, the key message or information you are presenting.

✅ Crafting Compelling Narratives ✅ 

Here are some tips to weave compelling storytelling narratives into your video content:

  • Start with a Relatable Hook: Begin your video with an engaging story or anecdote that relates to your main topic. This could be a personal experience, a historical event, or a hypothetical scenario that draws viewers in.
  • Create Emotional Connection: Use storytelling to evoke emotions in your audience. Emotional engagement can significantly enhance the impact and memorability of your content.
  • Show, Don’t Just Tell: Utilize visuals, music, and narration to show the story unfolding. This multi-sensory approach can make your narrative more immersive and engaging.
  • Build a Narrative Arc: Structure your content with a clear beginning, middle, and end. This classic narrative structure helps to keep the viewer interested and makes the information more digestible.
  • Integrate Real-world Examples: Especially in technical or abstract topics, incorporate real-world examples or case studies. This grounds your content in reality and demonstrates practical applications.
  • Use Characters or Personas: Introduce characters or personas that your audience can relate to. This human element can make complex or dry topics more accessible and engaging.
  • Include a Moral or Lesson: Conclude your story with a clear takeaway or lesson that ties back to your video’s main topic. This helps to reinforce the content and provides value to the viewer.
  • Leverage Conflict and Resolution: Introduce a problem or conflict at the beginning and guide the viewer through the process of finding a resolution. This creates a compelling narrative that keeps viewers engaged.
  • Invite Viewer Reflection: End your video with a question or thought that encourages viewers to reflect on the story and how it relates to the topic discussed. This can deepen the viewer’s engagement with the content.

In one of my Leveling Up videos, I interview Vivian Tu, also known as “your rich BFF,” who literally shares her own journey, or story, of personal finance and wealth-building.


Remember: By integrating these storytelling elements into your videos, you can create a more engaging, informative, and memorable viewing experience for your audience.

Tracking Progress and Testing

Monitoring the performance of your videos is vital for understanding your audience’s preferences, improving your content strategy and increasing your video ROI. If a video isn’t performing well, it’s necessary to go back and make adjustments.

Analyzing low-performing videos, understanding why they didn’t do well, and then applying those lessons to future content is key. It’s a continuous process of testing, learning, and refining.

When it comes to tracking your video’s progress, here’s what NOT to do:

❌ Don’t ignore key performance metrics like watch time, audience retention, and CTR in YouTube Analytics. Neglecting these metrics can leave you in the dark about how your content is performing and what needs improvement.

❌ Avoid focusing solely on the number of views as the only indicator of success. While views are important, other metrics like engagement rate, viewer retention, and audience demographics provide a more comprehensive understanding of your video’s performance.

❌ Avoid sticking rigidly to one content strategy or video type without considering the data. Failing to adapt your approach based on the performance insights can hinder your channel’s growth and viewer engagement. It’s important to be willing to experiment with different types of content and formats based on what the analytics suggest.

✅ Continual Improvement and Adaptation ✅ 

Here are some effective tips for monitoring and testing your videos:

  • Use YouTube Analytics: Regularly check YouTube Analytics for detailed insights on your video performance. To get there, click on your profile icon in the top right corner, from the dropdown menu, select “YouTube Studio,” click on “Analytics” on the left-hand side of the YouTube Studio dashboard. Pay attention to metrics like watch time, viewer retention, CTR (Click-Through Rate), and audience demographics.
  • Monitor Engagement Metrics: Look at likes, comments, shares, and subscriber growth related to specific videos. High engagement often indicates content that resonates with your audience.
  • Conduct A/B Testing: Experiment with different elements such as titles, thumbnails, and video lengths. Compare the performance of these variations to determine what works best for your audience.
  • Analyze Viewer Retention Graphs: Use the audience retention graphs in YouTube Analytics to see where viewers are dropping off. This can help you identify parts of your video that may need improvement.
  • Track Traffic Sources: Understand where your viewers are coming from (search, recommended videos, direct links, etc.). This can inform where to focus your content promotion efforts.
  • Evaluate the Performance of Different Content Types: If you produce various types of content, assess which are most effective in terms of engagement and viewership.
  • Set Goals and Measure Progress: Define clear, measurable goals for your videos (like a specific number of views or a certain level of engagement). Track your progress towards these goals over time.
  • Seek Viewer Feedback: Regularly read and respond to comments on your videos. Viewer feedback can be a valuable source of insight into what your audience likes and dislikes.
  • Stay Informed on Platform Changes: YouTube frequently updates its algorithm and features. Stay updated and adjust your content strategy accordingly.
  • Compare with Competitors: Look at similar channels or videos and see how your content stacks up. This can give you ideas for improvement and new content strategies.

Remember: Tracking and testing your videos is a continuous process. It’s about learning from both successes and failures, adapting your approach, and continually refining your content to better connect with your audience.

Last Word on YouTube Mistakes – and Fixes

Growing a YouTube channel requires more than just creating content. It demands a strategic approach to every aspect of your videos.

By addressing the tips and strategies discussed above, you’ll not only avoid common mistakes, but also be well on your way to successful channel growth.

From the first 30 seconds to tracking progress, from storytelling to the thumbnail, every element plays a crucial role in attracting and retaining viewers. By focusing on these key areas, you can enhance your channel’s growth and reach a wider audience.

Remember, every video is an investment of your time and creativity – make it count!

If you’re ready to drive impactful results through superior video viewer interaction, Single Grain’s YouTube experts can help!👇

Work With Us

For more insights and lessons about marketing, check out our Leveling Up podcast on YouTube.

Write for us

Think you’ve got a fresh perspective that will challenge our readers to become better marketers? We’re always looking for authors who can deliver quality articles and blog posts. Thousands of your peers will read your work, and you will level up in the process.

Contribute to our blog