YouTube Secrets: Book Overview & Key Takeaways

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "YouTube Secrets" by Sean Cannell and Benji Travis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do you come up with ideas for videos? What should you consider when you write a title for your videos? Is crowdfunding a viable method of making money on YouTube?

In YouTube Secrets, Benji Travis and Sean Cannell walk you through a plan to create a successful YouTube channel. They discuss how to generate valuable content, build community, and develop revenue streams for your channel.

Continue reading for an overview of this book that can put you on the road to YouTube success.

Overview of YouTube Secrets

In YouTube Secrets, prominent YouTubers Benji Travis and Sean Cannell share their formula for building a YouTube channel into a successful business. They emphasize that, although some channels have certainly benefited from starting in the early days of YouTube or having their videos go viral, you can still build a profitable channel today, even without exceptional innate talent, luck, or expensive videography equipment.

(Shortform note: Arguably, the real “secret” that Travis and Cannell reveal is simply that a sound business model leads to a sound business, even on YouTube. As the authors imply, some people believe that to succeed on YouTube, you need to have special advantages or discover some secret formula for making your videos go viral. But, Travis and Cannell don’t give you an arcane formula for making any video go viral. Instead, much of their advice represents an application of well-established business principles to YouTube business.)

Create Quality Content

According to Travis and Cannell, the most important thing you can do to build your YouTube business is to consistently post valuable content on your YouTube channel. In this section, we’ll discuss how to choose a theme for your channel and how to make videos that will deliver the value your channel needs to be successful.

Define Your Channel’s Value

Travis and Cannell advise that to consistently post valuable content on your channel, you need to start with a clear vision of what unique value you intend your channel to provide.

To identify what unique value you should focus on, they suggest thinking about the things that you are both passionate about and especially good at. Maybe you have a unique message that you want to convey, or you intend to cover a subject that nobody else is posting videos about. Or maybe you’ll make videos on a subject that already has a lot of videos and viewers, but you’ve got a unique presentation style that enables you to motivate or entertain your audience in ways that other channels don’t.

Make Videos That Deliver Value

Once you have a clear vision of what unique value your channel provides, start planning your videos by determining what specific value each video will provide. To keep the value of your videos as high as possible, the authors recommend brainstorming many video ideas and selecting only the best ideas for video topics. The authors observe that some successful YouTubers brainstorm as many as five ideas for every video that they actually make.


Travis and Cannell provide several tips on identifying video ideas. You can ask yourself what’s currently missing from YouTube in your topic area, and make videos that fill in these gaps in the collective knowledge base. You can also find out what viewers are searching for on YouTube by typing a partial query into YouTube’s search bar and looking at the top suggestions YouTube’s algorithm provides to complete the search terms.

Also consider making videos that relate to topics or products that are currently getting a lot of attention in the media, so you can capture some of that attention. Bear in mind, though, that to get the most out of videos on trending topics, you have to post them early in the attention cycle when interest in the topic is still building. Pulling this off requires a keen awareness of trends and a quick turnaround on making videos. This is a little easier with “tent poles”—topics that predictably draw attention around a certain time, such as annual holidays, national elections, or big sporting events.


Once you’ve decided what to make a video about, the authors offer a few tips on how to make the best possible video about it. If you don’t already have videography experience (and equipment), the authors recommend recording and editing your videos with just a smartphone because this simplifies video production, allowing you to focus more on your content quality than on the technical aspects of video production.

Once you start recording, Travis and Cannell recommend opening the video with a short preview of what you’re going to cover. If your viewers understand the value they can expect to get out of the video in the first few seconds, they’re more likely to stick around and watch the whole video.

Then present the main content of the video. Make sure it’s clear, well-organized, and concise—boring speeches and aimless rambling motivate viewers to click on something else.

End your video with a transition to another video. You can use YouTube’s “end cards” feature to provide a link to the next video you want viewers to watch. Try to segue into recommending the next video before alerting your viewers that you’re done presenting content in this one—if they think the video is “over” they may click on something else before they hear your recommendation. For example, instead of saying, “That’s it for today. If you liked this video consider watching [my other video]” say something like, “This is similar to what happened in [my other video]. I’ll put a link to it on the screen in case you want to check it out … .”

When you post the video, make sure the title and thumbnail clearly convey what the video is about and highlight the value it provides. If you made the video to address a topic that users are searching for, use the exact search phrase that you based it on in the video title.

How to Measure the Value of Your Videos

How do you know your videos are really delivering the value you intended?  Beyond the subjective feedback you get from your viewers, Travis and Cannell identify a few key metrics that can help you assess how viewers are reacting to your videos and channel. (You can access these metrics from the “Analytics” tab of your channel’s “Studio” page.) They assert that these metrics are also the ones that most affect how YouTube’s algorithms will rank your videos in search results and recommendations, so you want these metrics to be as high as possible.

CTR stands for “click-through rate.” It represents how often users click on your video when they see the video thumbnail. To maximize this, make sure your video title and thumbnail image clearly identify the value viewers can expect to get from the video.

AVD stands for “average view duration.” It’s the average amount of time viewers spend watching a given video before browsing to something else. The time that a viewer is willing to spend on a given video is a good measure of how engaging they find that video. Following the authors’ advice on how to make videos should help to make your videos engaging.

APV stands for “average percentage viewed.” This is the same as the average view duration, except that it’s expressed as a percentage of the video’s length instead of the amount of time spent watching it.

AVPV stands for “average views per viewer.” It’s the average number of videos on your channel that someone watches in a row before going to another channel. How many of your videos people watch in a row provides a measure of how well your channel is engaging your audience, and how much they’re likely to want more of your content when they discover you. Maximizing this metric is one of the reasons the authors recommend ending each of your videos by recommending another video, as we discussed earlier.

Build a Community of Viewers

While it’s crucial to create quality content, content by itself is not enough to make your YouTube business successful. Travis and Cannell explain that you also need to build a community of dedicated viewers who are united by their common interest in your content. Depending on your content, you might build a community from scratch around a topic that wasn’t previously covered on YouTube, or you might gather a following within a unique niche of an existing community.

Either way, as you develop your vision for your channel and come up with ideas for videos, consider not only what types of value you can provide, but also who it’s for. The better you understand your audience, the better you’ll be able to create a sense of friendship with them in your videos.

Particularly if there’s already a community of people united by a common interest in your topic, Travis and Cannell say you should find out who their prominent influencers are—especially what other YouTube channels they already subscribe to. It’s also good to know how many of them there are, what their level of income is, and what kind of things they’re willing to spend money on, as this will help you identify which revenue streams to focus on. (We’ll talk more about revenue in the next section.) Beyond understanding and keeping your target audience in mind when creating content, the authors recommend using several methods to build your community, which we’ll discuss in turn.

Post Regularly

According to Travis and Cannell, one of the most important ways to build your community is to post videos frequently and at regular intervals. This is because the more frequently and consistently your viewers see your face and hear from you by watching your videos, the more they will feel a sense of connection with you.

So, if possible, post at least one video per week. If you can realistically make enough good videos to post two or three a week, that’s even better. If your videos are very short (less than 60 seconds) it may even be worth posting as many as five videos per day. But if you only post one video a month and do so regularly, that‘s still better than only posting videos sporadically.

Respond to Comments

Perhaps the most obvious way to build a sense of community with your viewers is to encourage two-way discussion in the comments section of your videos. You can stimulate discussion in the comments section by asking your viewers a question in your video or encouraging them to share their thoughts on a certain issue. Travis and Cannell emphasize the importance of responding to all your viewers’ comments, especially when you’re first getting started.

Engage Your Audience Live

Another way to build a stronger sense of community among your viewers is to engage with them in real time. You can do this within YouTube itself using the live-streaming feature. With live-streaming, your video feed is broadcast in real time, and your viewers have access to a chat window. So you can use it to respond to questions as they are asked, or receive instant, live feedback as you present information or entertainment.

Depending on your audience and where they congregate, you may also be able to engage with them in person by attending conferences or giving live performances in venues that they frequent.

Develop Your Revenue Streams

Travis and Cannell explain that in a YouTube business, revenue comes third, at least chronologically. First, you create valuable content. Then you build up a community around your content. The influence that you have over this community is what enables you to make money.

Once you have enough influence, there are several ways you can make money. Depending on the type of content you create and your community’s interests, some of them will be more viable than others. So focus on the ones that fit the best with your community and with your vision for your channel.

Google Adsense

Google Adsense is an algorithm that selects ads to display on YouTube videos, monitors how often they are viewed or clicked on, and bills the company running the ad accordingly. If your channel is enrolled in the YouTube Partner Program, Adsense also pays you a percentage of the money it collects from the ads that it runs on your videos. Your channel needs at least a thousand subscribers to be eligible for the Partner program.

Product Promotions

Regardless of whether your channel’s enrolled in YouTube’s Partner Program and whether your videos are ad-friendly, you can make money promoting products that you know would appeal to your subscribers. Many online retail platforms (such as eBay, Amazon, and Shopify) provide “affiliate marketing” programs, to help their merchants connect with influencers who can promote their products. With an account in an affiliate program, you can get personalized links to products on the online marketplace that pay you a percentage of the profits from every sale that results from people following the link. Companies may also pay you a flat fee to promote their products in your videos.

However, Travis and Cannell caution you not to promote a product unless you genuinely believe your viewers will like it and benefit from it. Pitching products that aren’t good can hurt your YouTube business by undermining your influence.


You can also use your YouTube channel to promote your own products. If you already have a business that sells products or services, you may earn more money indirectly from promoting them on your YouTube channel than directly through other mechanisms.

If you don’t already have products or services to sell, you can always start selling branded merchandise, such as T-shirts and coffee mugs with your channel logo on them. And there are services that will handle production and distribution for you, so you can create a new revenue stream without taking time away from video production.


As the authors point out, you can also fund your channel through direct patronage of people who appreciate your content. There are a couple of mechanisms for collecting donations from patrons.

Within YouTube itself, if you have over a thousand subscribers you can enable “channel memberships.” This allows viewers to support your channel with recurring monthly donations. YouTube keeps 30% of the membership payments and gives you the remaining 70%.

There are also third-party crowdfunding platforms, of which Patreon is the most popular among YouTubers. It, too, enables you to receive monthly donations from supporters, and it takes only 10% of the funds. But it lacks the convenience of direct integration with YouTube.

YouTube Secrets: Book Overview & Key Takeaways

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Sean Cannell and Benji Travis's "YouTube Secrets" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full YouTube Secrets summary:

  • A guide to developing a successful YouTube business model
  • How to produce videos and grow your audience
  • How to find and implement the most effective revenue streams

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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