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How To Build a YouTube Ad Strategy From Scratch

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Advertising on YouTube can be an incredibly effective and efficient way to reach your brand’s target audience. As the world’s 2nd most popular website, YouTube combines endless inventory opportunities with advanced targeting capabilities that enable you to reach your target audience at any stage of the funnel. 

In this blog, we’ll look at how our team at Tuff, a YouTube Ads Agency, builds a successful YouTube ad strategy from scratch, from audience identification to campaign subtype selection, even if you’ve never done it before.

‘Start With Why’

A successful YouTube ad strategy begins with identifying the goals of your campaign. What are you hoping to achieve with your YouTube ad campaigns?

Put simply, a YouTube strategy can be broken down into two primary objectives:

  1. Introduce the brand to targeted top of funnel audiences and optimize for low cost per views and high watch rates.
  2. Retarget to a variety of audiences based on length of time since last site visit and/or site interactions, as well as YouTube video viewers while optimizing for traffic to the site & conversions. 

Maybe you want to do a bit of both – prospecting and retargeting – and this would be encouraged as YouTube ads provide the capability to efficiently target top of funnel, middle of funnel, and bottom of funnel audiences. With YouTube ads, a truly successful strategy requires a lot of testing, across various audience types and campaign subtypes. 

Identify Your Audience Segments

Once you’ve decided on your primary campaign objectives, begin identifying the audiences you want to reach.

To keep track of all of the audience segments you are testing, and to help visualize the full funnel of your audience targeting approach, a simple spreadsheet like the one below can help.

Here, we’ve mapped out the audience types that we want to target at each stage of the funnel, the source of the audiences, the demographics, location, campaign objective, and ad type. More than anything, putting your structure ‘on paper’ helps to keep track of all of the audiences tested and their objectives.

YouTube audience testing plan

As mentioned earlier, YouTube provides many targeting options, which makes it so effective and efficient to use. We won’t go into every single available audience or targeting option in this blog (we’ll let Google handle that), but ultimately, what works best for you and your brand will only be discovered through efficient testing.

A few ideal targeting options for testing at the brand awareness level include affinity, in-market, and custom intent audiences. In short, affinity audiences are Google-created interest-based audiences similar to interest targeting on social ad platforms, while in-market audiences are audiences identified by Google as having purchase intent, or being “in-market,” for a specific product or service. 

custom intent audiences on YouTube

Custom intent audiences offer the chance to target users based on search terms that they have recently searched on Google. This audience type can be used for campaigns running on Google properties, and since YouTube is a Google property, this means that we can use custom intent audiences for our YouTube ad campaigns.

This is an excellent opportunity to put a brand-focused video in front of an audience that you know has actively been searching for your targeted keywords on Google. In our extensive testing of YouTube ads, we have consistently found custom intent audiences to be an effective audience type. 

If you’re looking to re-engage an existing audience of site visitors, YouTube ads provide an attractive opportunity to expand beyond the Google Display Network and social media by staying in front of your retargeting audiences with video ads.

Generally, we think of building retargeting segments of site visitor audiences in Google Analytics and importing them into Google Ads as the recommended way of creating segmented retargeting audiences due to the advanced audience creation filters available in Google Analytics that are not available in Google Ads. However, using Google Ad’s audience creation tool gives us the ability to target recent YouTube video viewers as a retargeting audience, building further on a YouTube advertising strategy and funnel that begins with brand awareness ads at the top.

In the sheet above, you can see that we have chosen segmented audiences to test both types of retargeting audiences – site visitors and ad viewers. Further segmentation of these audiences by the length of time since visit can also help you identify how often and for how long you should be retargeting to audiences.

Beyond simplistic ‘site visitor’ audiences lies the opportunity to get more creative with retargeting. For example, consider retargeting to product viewers and/or abandoned cart users if you are advertising for an eCommerce brand. These audiences are now a lot ‘warmer’ than someone who visited the site and bounced after a page or two. 

Choosing The Right Campaign Types & Measuring For Success: 

After establishing your goals and identifying the audiences you want to target, the real fun of campaign creation begins. 

In line with your campaign goals and audiences, you want to choose the right YouTube campaign subtype to give yourself the best chance of success and YouTube’s explanations of each provide a good reference point for which is best to select when:

If you are looking to drive awareness and introduce your brand at a low cost per view, consider pairing some of those top of funnel audiences we discussed earlier with non-skippable in-stream ads, outstream ads, or a custom video campaign with skippable in-stream ads and bumper ads. These campaign subtypes give you the best opportunity to introduce your brand at affordable costs, while also building your retargeting lists for future campaigns.

After you’ve warmed up your audience with brand introductions at the top of the funnel, consider beginning to optimize for conversions as your audiences move further down the funnel. With the Drive conversions campaign subtype, you can create a TrueView for Action campaign (soon-to-be ‘Video Action’ campaign) optimized to drive traffic to your site and increase conversions by encouraging more click-thrus with prominent CTA buttons, sitelink extensions, headline text overlays & more. 

Regardless of the campaign subtype you’ve selected, it’s important to identify and stick with a handful of KPIs for each level of the funnel. 

For campaigns that are awareness focused, it is best to measure your performance based on awareness metrics, such as cost per view, cost per thousand impressions, average watch times, video play-thru metrics, and cost per clicks. Remember, as we are introducing the brand, it is critical to measure success based on the interactions we would expect from someone who has never heard of your brand before. 

As you look to target further down the funnel with warmer retargeting audiences, your measurement KPIs should change and you should begin to monitor your conversion rates, view-thru conversions, and cost per conversions from your conversion-optimized TrueView For Action campaigns more closely.

Conclusion

Although we didn’t touch on creative in this blog post – an obvious key component to YouTube ad success – you can dive deeper into this blog post regarding channel specific ad creative best practices from Tuff’s genius Creative Strategist, Elle Ossello, to get insight on how to develop successful, high-performance ad creative.

Where Search Happens: Using YouTube to Find Your eCommerce Customers

With the pandemic accelerating eCommerce spending in the US by 44% in 2020, and nearly ⅔ of shoppers saying online video has given them ideas and inspiration for their purchases, it’s easy to see why YouTube advertising has presented a perfect opportunity to enhance an eCommerce brand or product’s presence and drive online sales.

Advanced and wide-ranging targeting options coupled with low CPVs help make YouTube even more appealing to eCommerce brands looking to grow their online revenue.

YouTube knows it’s value to the eCommerce world as well, with the website recently announcing it is testing automatic product detection in videos, with the goal of showing those products in a list to viewers while they are watching the video. 

As the world of eCommerce continues to be influenced by a shift to video, we’ve put together a few pointers on how you can leverage YouTube marketing to grow your eCommerce business and turn YouTube into an eCommerce platform.

Effectively Using YouTube for eCommerce

To set your YouTube channel up for success, it can help to first take the time to create a successful organic strategy, and this starts with creating an awesome channel layout and strong, SEO-optimized content.

Tuff partners and eCommerce brand, Canoe Club, have nailed their YouTube channel layout, creating a memorable aesthetic with thumbnail continuity and easy to navigate playlists, enticing user engagement.

YouTube channel for eCommerce brand.

While having a strong organic YouTube strategy complete with a content calendar and SEO-optimized YouTube content is beneficial for your channel’s growth, particularly in the long run, having a strong organic presence is not necessary to get started taking advantage of other YouTube eCommerce marketing strengths. In fact, one of YouTube’s biggest strengths for eCommerce brands is its ability to launch ads and reach a massive, engaged audience on its ad platform quickly.

Often, budget is cited as a barrier to launching video ads for eCommerce brands. But, if you believe that engaging and effective video ads are too expensive for your brand or product, you may want to reconsider this assumption. Low Fidelity video ads (to chill/study/relax to), or ads that look more like they were shot with someone’s iPhone, are all the rage. This is because savvy marketers like Tuff’s own social expert, Kristin, have learned that these videos can outperform high budget, “professional” videos when competing side-by-side. Knock down those assumptions and pull out your smartphone – it’s time to get on YouTube.

Strategies for Paid YouTube eCommerce Marketing

Once you’ve got that perfect unboxing or product-in-use video ready, you can, within minutes, get your campaign launched and views rolling in. But before launching, you should carefully consider the true goal of your YouTube campaign to determine which campaign type will give you the best chance at success. Are you hoping to increase brand awareness and introduce your product to viewers for the first time? Or are you looking to reinforce your product and re-engage shoppers already familiar with your brand to drive click-thru conversions?

To get the most out of YouTube marketing, consider these effective eCommerce strategies for your campaigns.

Introduce & Engage with Sequences

To create a top-of-funnel interest generating prospecting and awareness campaign, we teamed up with our partner, QuietKat, to develop a YouTube video sequence that would introduce the brand to new prospecting audiences with a branded-focused ad first, before highlighting purchase incentives, such as free trials or 0% financing, or other unique selling points in subsequent videos. By coupling this sequence with a strong target audience, we’ve been able warm up cold traffic and drive new, engaged visitors to the site.

Retarget to Abandoned Carts & Product Viewers

Have a large audience of abandoned carts and product viewers without purchases? Tired of spinning your wheels with crappy display placements that never seem to drive a strong enough return? 

Generally, digital marketers and eCommerce brands will first think of Google Display, Facebook, or Instagram for their retargeting efforts, but as long as you have 1,000 users in your retargeting audiences, consider warming up those audiences further by staying top of mind and driving traffic back to your site with low-cost in-stream ads on YouTube. This retargeting approach is particularly beneficial for products that are best highlighted with video vs. static display images.

Leverage TrueView for Shopping Campaigns

Similar to the recently announced but not yet live product detection algorithm discussed above, TrueView for Shopping Ads give eCommerce brands the opportunity to feature their products on cards below or to the side of the video player when running YouTube ads. This option is already available for advertisers, and is an excellent option for eCommerce brands looking to drive lower-funnel click thru conversions from their YouTube ad campaigns.

YouTube ad preview

To take advantage of TrueView for Shopping campaigns, you’ll need a Merchant Center account and product feed set up. Once your feed is set up, you’re ready to begin leveraging these interactive video ads, featuring up to 6 shopping cards on your ad at a time. These cards can also be filtered to show only the most relevant products for your ad. 

Bonus Tip

Regardless of the campaign type, the best performing YouTube ads have one thing in common – they introduce the brand and/or product within the first 3 seconds of the video. The chart below shows why this is so important. 

Even with high quality content, nearly 50% of viewers will press the “skip ad” button within the first 5-10 seconds. By introducing your brand and product within the first few seconds, you’re sure to at least get your brand name or product in front of the viewer and top of mind before they decide to continue watching or skipping to their selected content.

As shoppers continue to leverage video in their purchase decisions, the benefits of YouTube for eCommerce marketing can’t be overstated. If you’re ready to take your brand’s growth to the next level and leverage the reach and engagement of one of the world’s largest websites, let’s chat about making Tuff your eCommerce growth agency.

Non-Branded Custom Intent Targeting on YouTube: Cut Your CPCs by 50%

Person reading a book about YouTube ads strategy.

It’s no secret that YouTube Ads are extremely effective if done right. The perfect combination of quality video creative with strong targeting can help a business achieve its online marketing goals, whether that is to increase brand awareness or increase on-site conversions. 

While placement targeting options such as channel, video, and topic targeting are all great options to reach your specific target on YouTube, YouTube audience targeting is also incredibly effective. But, going beyond Google, creating affinity and in-market audiences, and leveraging powerful Custom Audiences may help you achieve your best results – and, potentially save some money on expensive search terms. 

What are Custom Audiences?

Custom Audiences on Google can be created using recent keyword searches. However, only campaign types with placements entirely on Google-owned properties, such as YouTube campaigns, have the availability to create Custom Audiences that are created with people using keywords recently searched on Google. On non-Google owned properties, such as websites opted into the Google Display Network that your ad may show on, the Custom Audience is created with people with any of the search term interests or purchase intentions. 

When creating audiences using keywords, you have two options: create an audience using your branded keywords, or create an audience using non-branded keywords. 

When To Try Custom Audience Targeting on YouTube

With the ability to target the people who are searching for your targeted keywords in a potentially more cost-effective way, Custom Audience targeting is an exciting and effective audience type, particularly for industries with high search CPCs. This is often the case with non-branded keywords. 

Imagine, you are getting your best performance out of your non-branded search campaigns, but CPCs continue to rise. How else can you continue to get in front of people actively searching for your keywords if you don’t want to pay for ever-increasing search campaigns CPC prices? By creating a Custom Audience out of your non-branded keyword targets, and targeting this audience on YouTube, of course!

Additionally, if you already have video assets, this strategy is a no-brainer. To prove it, check out this example from a test we recently ran for our partner, Team Bootcamp. Team Bootcamp had already been highly successful at advertising their ‘Anatomy Bootcamp’ all-in-one online study tool with YouTube by targeting a list of highly matched YouTube channels. 

When looking to scale this success on YouTube and increase the volume of free trial sign ups, I knew that we would have to look for additional targeting options available. At the same time, we also had been testing a non-branded search campaign on Google that was yielding very promising conversion rates, but high CPCs, resulting in a cost per conversion that was higher than we were comfortable paying for. Enter our non-branded Custom Audience test!

To target those same keywords that we had proven to convert with search, we created a Custom Audience of non-branded keywords using the keywords that delivered the best results from our search campaign. 

Here is what the audience creation process looks like. As you can see, you simply plug in your keywords and Google will also provide audience insights on the right hand side.

youtube ad targeting

 

(Although Google recommends creating a Custom Audience using 50 or more search terms, I have actually seen better results when creating the audience using 5 terms or less.).

Before even spending $100, we saw excellent results, with a cost per conversion of less than a third of the cost from the search campaign. The combination of winning video creative with a highly targeted audience was producing great results. This signaled to us it was time to invest a greater percentage of our monthly ad budget in the YouTube campaign.

 

What If You Don’t Have Video Assets?

If you don’t have video assets but would like to try out a Custom Intent audience made up of actual search terms and not just “purchase interests,” you can still achieve this through using a campaign type with placements only on Google-owned properties, such as Gmail or Discovery. In fact, running a Google Discovery Ads campaign will also get you placements on YouTube mobile, without even needing a video ad.

This is a strategy we leveraged for Tuff partner, Dial + Bezel. When helping Dial + Bezel launch their brand new website and watch auction platform, we wanted to attract an engaged audience, but after testing a non-branded search campaign, we knew it wouldn’t be sustainable for this start-up to pay a premium on search CPC clicks. 

Instead, we again leveraged a non-branded Custom Audience and used it to target people searching for the keywords we tried paying for on search. Not only did we see CPCs of one-tenth of search, we saw on-site performance that was nearly identical, indicating that we were hitting the targeted audience that we wanted to hit, without having to pay for search CPCs.

Youtube Campaign Results

Even if you don’t have video assets and therefore can’t advertise on YouTube, you can still find your audience, and good results, using Custom Audiences on Discovery.

Conclusion

As the competition continues to increase year-over-year for placements in the top 4 results of Google Search ads, costs continue to rise for clicks across multiple industries. Although search campaigns have the highest intent targeting available, they also often have the highest costs. Utilizing Google’s Custom Audiences on Google-owned properties such as YouTube can give you the ability to reach your desired audience without breaking the bank.