YouTube's Product Management Team Interviewed by Eric Enge

Published: May 17, 2009

Our first interviewee, Tracy Chan is a Product Manager at YouTube. Prior to working at YouTube he was a Financial Analyst at Google. He has also worked as an Associate at Stockamp & Associates and a Corporate Strategy Intern at eBay. He got his degree at the University of California, San Diego.

Our second interviewee, Matthew Liu is the lead product manager on YouTube Sponsored Videos. In this role, he focuses on building an advertising platform that allows video creators -- from the everyday user to a Fortune 500 advertiser -- to reach people who are interested in their content, products, or services, with relevant videos. Previously, Matthew led numerous other projects at YouTube for advertising, content partnerships and rights management, and community.

Matthew has a MS in Management Science & Engineering and a BS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.

Interview Transcript

Eric Enge: Can you provide an overview of what Insight is, and why you created it?

Tracy Chan: There are millions of people watching hundreds and millions of videos every single day on YouTube. We started to hear from advertisers, content providers and everyday users that they wanted to understand YouTubeís audience,. They were asking questions such as: "How do we really standout, how do we understand our ecosystem, and how do we know how the videos are performing"? They basically wanted to learn more about their audience in order to make better content.

As YouTube was growing, it started turning into the worldís largest focus group. So basically what we did was build up a pretty powerful analytics tool that helps content providers, advertisers and users better understand their performance on YouTube.

This is a tool thatís free to anyone who has ever uploaded a video. When I uploaded my first video, I got a hundred views in the first two days. And that was actually surprising to me, because it was a little animation video that was actually not that interesting. I was wondering if my mom was just watching it over and over or if other people around the world were watching my video.

With this in mind, we built up a product almost a year ago; which we launched on March 26 of last year. We started with basic functionality that could give you information on my views over a certain period of time, maybe a month. On a personal note, it helped me figure out that my video was watched 50 times by my mom in California, but it also got a lot of views in Spain and the UK. So it was really interesting, because you could finally see where your audience was coming from and what the lifecycle of your video looked like.

On top of that, we built a feature called Popularity, which analyzes how your videoís performance compares to other videos. You can see how well your video performed on any given day relative to all the videos within YouTube or within specific geographic regions. And what is really interesting is that what we found our businesses were starting to use this basic data in very interesting ways.

The obvious value was in understanding the lifecycle of your video, and on what days of the week it was most popular. This can help content owners really start to own their program strategies on YouTube. If they get most of their views within the first three weeks, for example, serial content providers could start uploading their videos every three weeks. Then they could maximize the number of views that they get on YouTube.

Another interesting phenomenon we observed was that bands would put up concert footage or their new video clip, and they would have interesting pockets of audiences in different areas across the US. Theyíd actually start planning the touring schedules around them, because nothing is worse than scheduling a concert and having no one show up. But by having their content on YouTube, they could understand where the views were coming from and they could better plan their concert strategies.

Another really interesting use of the tool involves measuring ad effectiveness. This could save you money on promotional dollars within the YouTube ecosystem. You could really start to see the effect of specific advertising campaigns that you ran them and if you got the views and spikes you expected. Here is an interesting example: if you ran a homepage ad on YouTube, you would expect that the video that you ran the ad on would get a spike in views.

But, what we also saw was that all the other videos within that uploader's channel got spikes and views even if they put just one video on the homepage. So, you could really start to see the halo effects of advertising. Interestingly enough, you could also see the effectiveness of the different offline promotions that you were doing.

If you had a movie screening in Michigan, for example, you could see if that made people in Michigan start looking for your YouTube content, and then the halo effects of the surrounding states that potentially heard of it as well. So a lot of really interesting stuff is coming off of the first features we created for YouTube Insight, showing basic views trended over time and space.

A couple of weeks after we launched Insight, we added a discovery feature that allows publishers to understand how people get to their video. They can see if they found it through a search on YouTube or Google, or if it was an external link that they found somewhere on the web.

It may be an embedded video across the web or a part of the YouTube site that drove traffic back to your video. Now this is actually pretty obvious, and again there is an opportunity to devise optimization strategies around how people find your content. For example, if there were blogs that embedded your video, you could reach out to them and form business relationships.

One of the interesting stories that we heard involved the band Weezer. Weezer debuted one of their videos off of their latest album on YouTube, and what they found is they got almost 2,000,000 views within the first couple of days, which is a fantastic performance. When they looked in Insight, they found that a lot of those views were actually driven by tech blogs such as Valleywag and TechCrunch, which was a big surprise to them.

So what they did with this information was actually more interesting than the information itself. The single preceded the album release, so when they were promoting the album release and their tour, they actually spent a lot of their media money on tech blogs since they knew they were already established there.

Eric Enge: So they reached out directly to the tech blog, because clearly the tech blog had an interest in them at that point as well.

Tracy Chan: You can imagine all the types of relationships that you could form from that. Not only do we show you the sources of traffic, we allow you to drill down more specifically. So, for example, you can actually see the search terms that led people to your videos. We have a great promotional product called Promoted Videos which is basically Adwords for YouTube, that allows you to advertise against specific keywords. So you can have your search and your video results show up with organic search results on the site.

Again, Insight has proven to be a very powerful product, because now you can know which search terms are really effective and which terms were less effective. And the combination of the two really helps people start to find the audience that was looking for their content, whether they be advertisers or content providers.

Eric Enge: Right. So if you are a commercial entity that produced a neat video that you put on YouTube, you may want to buy advertising just to create visibility for your video. Then you could use the analytics functionality to see how that campaign performed.

Tracy Chan: Absolutely. Another really interesting thing about YouTube is that a lot of people just come to the site to be entertained. So for example, we get a lot of crazy, funny videos. You may find that the term ďfunny videoĒ actually drives a lot of video views to a video such as Tea Partay. Because you now have access to this information, you can understand those general search terms that you may not have thought about before and really start to optimize. Insight is very real time. You can optimize in the middle of your campaigns, and it will really start to tell you what your strategies should be.

The next feature that we launched was the Demographics function, which basically shows you the makeup of your audience in terms of a sex breakdown and an age breakdown. This is pretty important to both advertisers and content providers, because they need to see if they are reaching their target demographic.

One of the things that weíve realized about YouTube is that since it has such a massive audience, you can find any niche audience you want. An example we had was of a PBS producer who produced a show. He wanted to put the pilot up on YouTube, but the management at PBS wasnít really sure that YouTube was the right place, because they thought YouTube was geared towards a younger audience.

What they did was put the pilot up on YouTube and let it run for two weeks, and they found that actually 75% of their audience was over 35, which was their target demographic. So it really proves that there is an audience on YouTube for any type of content. We also found that people are starting to use the demographic information provided by YouTube Insight to close deals.

One of the most popular comedians on YouTube is a guy named Paul Telner. And he used the demographic information in Insight to show that he appealed to the right target audience and sign a deal with MuchMusic, which is Canadaís #1 cable music network. Another example is Chris Bosh, who is NBA All-Star for the Toronto Raptors and also a member of the US Olympic team. Sharing information on his YouTube demographic helped him get a sponsorship deal with AOL Sports.

Eric Enge: You could view it from the opposite point of view, which is if you are a content provider who needs to decide who you want to target as a potential advertiser.

Tracy Chan: Absolutely. And we think people experiment with their content too. They put up multiple creatives to see what demographics these different creatives resonate with. Itís using that focus group in a very, very controlled way, but itís very quick and free as well. And you have access to such a wide audience, so you can really see how things resonate within different groups.

The most recent feature that weíve launched is Hot Spots. All the previous features focused around using aggregate geographic data, but Hot Spots starts to dig deep into specific views. It shows how your audience related to the video during playback.

What you basically see is a graph alongside your video, so you can actually play the video and see how your audience is responding second-by-second. If people dropped off, your graph would go downwards. If people rewound, youíd see spikes in attention. We also give you an overall attention score so you can understand how your video is performing relative to others.

We show this attention score and your Hot Spots graph relative to videos of a similar length. This is important because in a vacuum people drop off more and more as videos continue past certain lengths. Itís an aggregate.

Eric Enge: Can you talk about exportable reports?

Tracy Chan: Basically we heard from our content providers, our power users, and our advertisers, loud and clear, that they want broad access to the data. So we have launched exportable reports. The premise behind it is that we want to give these power users the data how they want it, when they want and where they want it.

Exportable reports provides a lot more flexibility on top of the tools we already give you today. There are groupings of these videos that publishers want to look at that they are never going to tell YouTube. So, for example, if you had one marketing department focusing on a set of videos and another one focused on a different set of videos, there was no way to arbitrarily group those up, because YouTube had no way of knowing which individual works on each set of videos.

Now they can download analytics for the specific videos and then make those comparisons. Until today, we gave you discovery sources by geography and by time, but in order to see things over time you had to select different date ranges. So if you wanted to see the number of times a specific keyword was searched on a daily basis, you could do it in Insight prior to the release of this new feature, but it previously required some manual work, because you had to switch filters and things like that.

With exportable reports you can target the specific types of data that you want.

If it is a keyword term, you can select that, filter it in the list and then try and put it on a timeline. Or if you wanted to look at views from certain keywords versus having your video embedded on a certain blog, you can compare those sources side-by-side. There are a lot of interesting things that we have heard content providers and advertisers want to do with this data, such as plugging it into their own systems and comparing their advertising campaigns on YouTube versus those on the radio.

Now they are able to have that flexibility, and if they want to plug into a wider ecosystem, exports can take them a long way in getting there.

Eric Enge: Is the export a manual process?

Tracy Chan: Yes. It is a link and we provide it on a per-video and a per-channel basis. We are going to make improvements in terms of including more types of data and making it easier to access it, but we actually launched this feature very quickly from its conception. It was a 3-week cycle, so our goal was to launch it very fast, get users access to the features that we were promoting and then make improvements as we get feedback.

Eric Enge: Can you export any of the data in Insight or just specific things?

Tracy Chan: Right now, we basically have two reports. The first report gives you views, uniques, popularity information and engagement information. You can see comments, ratings and favorites on a daily basis by country and by video. And then the second report is referral data, so views by referral source are broken down by all the granularity that we have on a daily and country basis.

Eric Enge: That is some good stuff for people to pull out. They can combine it with their other analytics data as well.

Tracy Chan: Absolutely. We think that would be a great use of the exported data. We have heard some advertising agencies have their own internal reporting tools, and anytime that there is a reporting system that can plug-in, it makes them more efficient in terms of optimizing campaigns.

Eric Enge: Right, You can just export the CSV file out and then run their other tools.

Tracy Chan: Yes, absolutely. We are excited about this new feature, and we have received pretty good press from the blogosphere and from comments back on the YouTube blog where we can see people are finding it useful.

Eric Enge: Any comments you can make on plans to enhance the analytics further?

Tracy Chan: Insight had just two features when we launched a year ago, and now we have about six full-featured modules. So we are evolving very, very quickly. I canít speak specifically to features that we are going to be building up, but you can imagine there is a lot we can do with all the data that YouTube has. We display a lot of data such as engagement within the sites and how people are commenting on and rating the videos. You can imagine that expanding over a number of dimensions.

Eric Enge: And now YouTube has become the # 2 search engine on the web, so that really adds to the value of this data.

Tracy Chan: We are looking forward to helping people use the tool, because quite frankly weíve been surprised about all the different use cases. Optimizing for search is a great way that people can enhance their experience on YouTube.

Eric Enge: Thanks for joining us today Tracy!

Tracy Chan: Thanks for having me!

Eric Enge: Hi Matt! Can you give us an overview of your role with YouTube?

Matthew Liu: Hi Eric, my name is Matthew Liu. I am a Product Manager, working alongside Tracy and others for YouTube advertising platforms. I am working on one of our newest launches, which happened at the end of last year, Promoted Videos. We think of it as the equivalent to Adwords on YouTube, as it is a paid Video Search product.

Eric Enge: From an optimization point of view, the first thing you have to do is produce content that is interesting to people who end up discovering it on YouTube, which sort of goes without saying.

Matthew Liu: Yes, absolutely. I think weíve always had the philosophy at YouTube, whether itís talking to our users, content partners or advertisers, that whatever it is that you want to share should be good content. So when we speak to advertisers we ask them to try to make their advertisements videos that people would want to watch anyways.

By using our advertising products advertisers are able to help put a little bit of gasoline on the fire and allow it to spread more quickly and potentially become viral. Similarly, our content partners and everyday users trying to get viewership should really think about what the community is looking for in general at a specific moment. And they should really try to personalize their video for the YouTube community as opposed to simply just taking content that might otherwise have ran on television or some other medium.

Eric Enge: So I think there are a couple of key non-SEO things that people typically talk about. For example, advertising and allowing people to share your videos is a good thing to do. Also, making sure that the content in some way reinforces the brand rather than just being entertainment without purpose, so to speak. Allowing ratings and well selected thumbnails are also good promotional strategies as well, right?

Matthew Liu: Yes, absolutely. You touched on a couple of those things, such as ratings, comments and also on embedding. One of the larger paradigms is that a lot of people put content on YouTube and they allow themselves to engage in conversation with the community. Sometimes we see our larger content partners or advertisers shy away from that, because they are afraid of what comments and what ratings they are going to get.

Accepting comments and ratings may feel a bit more risky, but it definitely offers you very valuable instant feedback. So if we are able to get a couple thousand views and see what the ratings are and what people's comments are, it empowers you to make changes. And if you are getting positive feedback, not only is your video getting out there, but you are spurring positive conversation as well. So thatís definitely one thing we recommend.

Eric Enge: I guess it gets back to the old social media lesson, the conversation is going to take place with or without you.

Matthew Liu: Yes, thatís a perfect statement.

Eric Enge: The choice becomes very obvious once you think about it that way. So do you have any interesting case study examples of someone who used advertising as a way to really launch a successful video?

Matthew Liu: Yes. The first example involves OfficeMax, which is a large retail supplier of various office products. It is a traditional brand advertiser, with its own TV commercials in most cases, but they knew they wanted to do something a little bit edgier, with a potential to go viral.

They commissioned The Escape Pod to be their agency, because they wanted to do something much more creative. So they came up with interesting series of videos, the Penny Pranks videos, for their Back to School campaign. These involved a funny looking guy who would go to various places in New York City and try to pay for everything with pennies, and everyone would be outraged. He would try to buy a car with 200,000 pennies, or something similar to that.

They decided to use advertising to drive those initial views. They wanted to accelerate that and also as a byproduct increase the discoverability on organic search and on YouTube. So they worked with us using Promoted Videos and some other paid mediums.

What they found was they were able to get fairly efficient views, so they were very pleased with the price. They were able to get a ton of clicks, which drove a lot of traffic to their videos. And as a result, they started that viral loop. So over time, we saw that for many search query terms. On the organic side, for some of their target queries, their videos became the top search result.

OfficeMax actually was able to become so embraced by the community that our search engine deemed them to be the most relevant for that time period. And they also saw additional uplift on their other videos; not just the videos that they promoted from users watching and clicking on more from OfficeMax, but more views on the related videos as well.

They were very pleased, because they had a very successful campaign that they were able to conduct in a very efficient way. Thatís one major example where you can think of brand advertisers trying to efficiently drive traffic to their online videos, engage in positive conversation and even potentially engage in that viral spreading of video.

The second example that we can talk about regards a producer of consumer gadgets and products. During the launch of Promoted Videos they participated with us in producing a couple of videos that highlighted their iPhone 3G cases. The company is Zagg, and their product is called the Invisible Shield. Itís an invisible, scratch-resistant film that goes on the iPhone. You could take a key or a knife to it and it will prevent your iPhone from being scratched.

So in the video they show two iPhones side-by-side, one with the cover and one without it, and they show the different results. When promoted against terms such as iPhone and iPod, it was not only able to drive traffic to that video, but ZAGG was able to convert the traffic into sales.

The amazing thing about it is that they were actually able to drive conversions at a cheaper value than they would have been able to do on Google and other competing search engines. One of the hypotheses we have is that for certain types of products where the user may not be as aware as to exactly what it is, being able to see it is far more compelling than just three lines of text.

Eric Enge: So what about the power of send to a friend, and other options for sharing?

Matthew Liu: There are a bunch of different sharing options, from sending to a friend, to embedding that video, to sharing on Facebook or MySpace, to even just copying and pasting the URL so you can go back to it later. So these all have various different positive benefits. I wonít go into the details as to which ones we found most successful, but I think there is a reason why we encourage video distribution through different means beyond just YouTube, whether itís IM, Connections on YouTube or posting to third party sites. They definitely have a lot of positive values driving additional viewership and potentially even subscriptions. It just creates an overall deeper engagement.

Eric Enge: Let's get into more basic SEO kinds of things. Standard advice in the industry places a lot of emphasis on category selection, titles and descriptions, and the use of tags. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Matthew Liu: If you pull up a YouTube watch page, youíll see three main areas of tags that the user can input. We do have the title and the description tags just as you mentioned, but I think what a lot of people are missing when they use these three fields is comprehensiveness. A lot of times we see videos with very short titles, very short descriptions and somewhat erratic tags.

The first thing I would say is if your video has subtopics or a subtitle, include them in the original title, and include all the details in the description. We offer a lot of space where we usually type in all the details, and obviously we are indexing all those descriptions and tags, and they are going to be surfacing in both YouTube video search and Google video search. So itís important that you have comprehensive data.

Secondly, we would say be consistent. A lot of videos we see have a good title and a good description, but then totally random tags. So we actually do have measures that penalize this poor behavior. We recognize when videos are trying to spam, and thatís actually something we penalize. So be consistent with your title description and tags. Make them clearly about that video and donít try putting unrelated keywords in any of those fields.

Another layer of video SEO is to make your video open. Allow it to be embedded and allow users to comment on it and rate it. We definitely do take user feedback as an additional ranking mechanism. This can hurt you if you end up getting a lot of negative ratings, but the positive benefit of getting higher ratings outweighs that risk.

Now letís talk a little bit more about engaging with that user. You mentioned the thumbnail which is probably one of the most basic things. Pick a thumbnail that is both representative of your video and engaging. Right now we will give you three thumbnails that we take from areas that we think are representative of your video, so any user that uploads a video should definitely take the time to find the best thumbnail.

There are some positive benefits to higher quality videos. Users may or may not care as much about the quality of the video itself, but because we are taking that thumbnail from the video, the higher quality of video will make the thumbnail a higher quality as well. And higher quality thumbnails are something that we definitely notice attract our users.

Eric Enge: Right. So youíve got to care about the content and the quality of the thumbnail.

Matthew Liu: Absolutely. Then going further along with engagement, weíve launched some features such as path annotations. These are becoming more and more powerful overtime, as they are an additional way for you to communicate with your users. We are able to put speech bubbles or links to your other YouTube videos.

Often times, savvy users do very interesting video tours where they link back to one another through different videos, or they even have games you can play by clicking on different annotations. Itís interesting how you can create an extended cycle of viewership through annotations.

Then, rather than just interacting with their user base, they are also interacting with the rest of the YouTube community. So what weíve seen is that a lot of successful people can cluster together. A lot of our top users have formed this community where they send video responses to each other, they comment on each otherís videos and they subscribe to each other. So we definitely encourage people who are trying to get increased viewership to tag back.

We donít want to have people spamming or just randomly adding irrelevant videos as video responses, or comment spamming, and we definitely penalize videos that do these things, but when it is legitimate, posting video responses is a good way to network with other community members. Think of it almost as a message that you would get back on a social networking feed or a Twitter feed.

Just continue that dialogue with important members of the community. Often times if that original video does get traffic, then your video response may get additional traffic and help viewers discover you as a new source of quality videos.

Eric Enge: You get value by building relationships.

Matthew Liu: Yes, completely.

Eric Enge: Should people strive to avoid "stop words" in their titles. Similarly, should you include the word video in your title or description, so that if somebody searches on tech software video, for example, then you have a better chance of coming up. Do those things make sense as well?

Matthew Liu: Yes, they do. Especially in the context of discovery from Google, because Google also indexes YouTube videos. Another thought that I forgot to mention is if your video was shot at a particular location or on a particular day, then you should also include some of that information in the videoís description.

Eric Enge: Another suggestion Iíve heard is to use adjectives such as happy or sad to pick up mood-based searches.

Matthew Liu: What I can tell you is that YouTube search and Google search are a bit different at times. Itís not in all cases, but we have seen that some users tend to search in more generic terms,. So youíll see users searching for very specific pieces of content, such as ďCBS videoĒ or ďNBA videoĒ. You will also see users searching for terms such as funny videos. What I would say is video owners should target both the very specific terms and they should also potentially broaden out a little bit so that there are more generic queries in the description and the tags.

Eric Enge: Whatís the best way to get a sense of the best keywords within the YouTube environment?

Matthew Liu: Great question. We donít have anything to announce for now, but we are working on various keyword tools. We have a couple of very basic keyword tools as part of Promoted Videos right now, which allow you to checkup similar keywords. The Insight tool that Tracy talked about also helps to understand keywords that are already driving traffic to your video.

We are working on a couple of other similar projects where weíll be able to have much more robust keyword suggestions in the near future. But in general, I would say use Insight and use the keyword tools that are already available in Promoted Videos, and those are probably going to be your best bet in the short term.

Eric Enge: I have also heard a suggestion that you go to the search tool when you start entering a query, and then the search suggestions that you can get there may be in volume order from largest to smallest?

Matthew Liu: I canít comment specifically about that. Those are suggested queries that we think users might be searching for as they start typing certain letters.

I will add a caution that publishers should avoid keyword stuffing because itís very easy for you to potentially broaden the scope for your video by adding a couple of keywords. But, it only takes one or two irrelevant keywords to trigger us to think that the video is trying to spam the system. Our penalties will outweigh the benefits you can get with keyword stuffing.

Eric Enge: But you did say earlier that itís important to be comprehensive, which means that you should include all the keywords that are in fact relevant (without putting too many total keywords), correct?

Matthew Liu: Yes, there is definitely a balance you have to find. Itís actually more of an art than a science. Use keywords that are related, but donít type in every letter in the alphabet. Just come up with the most important relevant keywords and add all those words into your description and tags.

Eric Enge: Itís got be highly relevant and something that people can search to discover your video, and then have a good chance of being happy when they get there. At a minimum, they get relevant content, even if it is not exactly what they are looking for.

Matthew Liu: Yes, absolutely.

Eric Enge: Thanks a lot Matt!

Matthew Liu: Yes, thank you Eric!

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About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.

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