Why ‘How to’ videos get thousands of views — 5 tips for insanely popular videos

Image by Freepik

It’s frustrating isn’t it?

You’re an expert. You want to share what you know. Teach the world what you do.

You spend hours crafting your videos. But have you got it right? Will people watch to the end? Has your time and effort been worth it?

You want this reaction:

‘Wow, now I get it’. ‘Wahay! So helpful’.

‘I love these guys. What else have they done?’

Not this reaction:

‘Well, that’s 10 minutes I’ll never get back’. ‘I just don’t get it’. ‘Back to Google’.

When your message isn’t clear, you risk losing people forever. If you bore or confuse them, they’ll find another video.

But, what if you had a simple checklist to keep viewers glued? A checklist that helps get more views, more shares and more likes?

The best ‘how to videos’ include five simple success factors. Want to know what they are?

Success factor # 1: Say what’s in it for me right from the start

What’s the point of watching the video?

Right from the top, give people a reason to watch.

I’m going to show you how to bleed a radiator. It’s a great way to save money on your energy bill by making sure your heating system is working more efficiently.

Woodies DIY Video Channel

Have you ever got a little piece of egg shell in your eggs when you’re cracking them? Well, let me show you the quickest and easiest way to get rid of it.

Jamie Oliver How to videos

A skill we think you should master is riding very slowly around corners. Because it’s when you’re going round corners that you’re at your least stable.

Global Cycling Network, 5 cycling skills every bike rider needs.

Success Factor #1 works because you don’t waste viewers’ time. So they immediately like you

  • They don’t have to trawl through the video to find out if you can help or not
  • Straight away they know you cover making their heating work or mending a puncture on the road.

It stops you getting this reaction:

‘What’s the point of this?’

Say what’s in it for me right from the start.

Success factor # 2: Make a series of short videos instead of one long one

Want to avoid information overload?

‘How to’ videos don’t give every solution in one long video. They offer one approach at a time.

We watch them because they give quick answers.

I can learn how to bleed that dodgy radiator in 2 minutes. And if that doesn’t work there are short videos on flushing out radiators, removing sludge from radiators or balancing the central heating system. You get the idea.

Success factor #2 makes it easy to achieve a goal. So viewers come back for more.

  • One specific action at a time feels doable.
  • People don’t have to sift through information they don’t need.

It stops you getting this reaction:

‘Help, waaaay too much info’.

Make several short videos instead of one long video.

Success factor # 3: Stick to what people need to know, not what they might want to know. No interesting (to you) asides

(Thanks to Kathy Sierra’s wonderful book ‘Badass. Making users awesome’ for the wording of this one.)

I get it. You’re an expert. You love what you do. You want to share your passion with the world. So it’s tempting to share interesting asides with your audience.

Don’t. It only confuses.

Focus on what viewers need to know right now to achieve their goal. My radiator’s broken. I’m cold and grumpy. I don’t want irrelevant central heating facts. I need the information to solve my problem.

Success factor # 3 helps you come across as an expert. So people trust you — waffle and padding are never credible.

  • You stick to the point. People aren’t confused by asides and unrelated information
  • They don’t have to work out what’s important information and what’s not.

It stops you getting this reaction:

‘I really don’t get this’.

Stick to what people need to know to solve their problem.

Success factor # 4: Help viewers pay attention. Break your subject down into small chunks so it feels manageable

When we watch ‘How to’ videos we’re motivated to learn. We have a specific problem to solve. A goal to achieve. So once we know you can help — Success Factor #1 — we’ll keep watching.
 But we still need help to stay focused.

The best ‘How to’ videos do two things to keep us on track. They keep it short — ideally less than 3 minutes, 5 minutes maximum. And they present information in logically ordered chunks. I learn how to bleed a radiator in 4 clear steps, a handy tip and a safety note.

Success factor #4 gives people confidence. So they like and trust you (even more).

  • When it feels difficult people look for distractions. But small chunks of information — steps 1–4 feel manageable. It helps them feel ‘I can do this’ and motivates them to keep watching.

It stops you getting this reaction:

‘This is way too hard. I wonder what’s happening on Twitter?’

Break your subject into small chunks. And keep it short.

Success factor # 5: Be a guide — Use a simple structure and signpost the way through the video

It’s easy to feel lost. So we need a guide for even the shortest videos. This 2 minute video signposts the way like this:

1. Presenter introduces the video : ‘I’m going to show you how to bleed a radiator.’

The structure: Gives the point of watching straight away

2. Presenter describes steps 1 – 4:

The Structure: demonstrates how to bleed a radiator

3. Presenter closes the video: ‘You’ve just seen how to bleed a radiator’

The structure: Summarises what they’ve watched.

Success factor # 5 makes the video easy to follow. So people don’t give up and hit pause.

  • I get the big picture
  • I always know where I am

It stops you getting this reaction:

‘Where’s this going? OK, now I’m lost.’

Sign post the way through your video.

The elephant in the room

You may well be thinking:

‘That’s all very well. But, I’m doing more than messing around with radiators here.’

Here’s the thing. Video is ideal for teaching a process you can demonstrate step by step. Like fixing radiators and scrambling eggs. They work. That’s why they’re so popular. And why learning from the best ‘how to’ videos is helpful.

And yes of course, presenting knowledge is more complex than showing how to mend a puncture. But the same success factors apply whether you’re scrambling eggs or explaining how to write great copy.

Don’t create videos that are like books — long, detailed and dense. It doesn’t suit how people learn best or how we watch videos online.

Turn casual viewers into raving fans

Here’s the good news.

You don’t need to use all the success factors, or even apply them perfectly, to improve. You can start small and see a difference.

Try success factor # 5 — sign post the way through the video — to make instant progress. Simply tell your viewers where they’re going, how the chunks link to each other and then summarise the journey.

Success Factor # 5 — Example

If I made this post into a video I might signpost the way like this:

1. Set the destination
‘I’m going to show you what you can learn from ‘how to’ videos to save you making videos nobody watches’.

2 Sign post for Success Factor #1 — Say what’s in it for me right from the start
‘When people watch videos the first thing they want to know is, can you help?’

3. Sign post for Success Factor #2 -Make a series of short videos instead of one long one
‘Once people know the point of the video you need to make your topic feel doable. Here’s how….’

4. Sign post for Success Factor #3 — Stick to what people need to know, not what they might want to know
 ‘The biggest pitfall to making short, doable videos is including too much information’.

5. Sign post for Success Factor #4 — Help viewers pay attention. Break the subject down into small chunks so it feels manageable.

‘So you’ve seen that sticking to the point helps people understand. Here are two more ways to make people love your videos’.

6. Sign post for Success Factor #5 — Be a guide. Use a simple structure and signpost the way through the video.
‘Finally, don’t forget to lead the way through your video. Stop people feeling lost’.

7. Summarise the journey

‘So to make videos people want to watch you need to’:

  1. Say what’s in it for viewers right from the start
  2. Make several short videos
  3. Stick to what people need to know to achieve their goal
  4. Break your topic down into small chunks
  5. Sign post the way

Be a trusted guide. Inspire confidence. So people remember you and come back for more.

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Rebeccca Wallace has been designing and delivering training — face-to-face, blended and e-learning — in the corporate world and adult education for 25 years. She has an MSc IT & Learning and is a graduate of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.