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2021 YouTube Best Practices

2021 YouTube Best Practices

As in-person quickly shifted to online in 2020, the importance of video and overall need for human interaction rose. It’s no secret how important YouTube is during these unprecedented times. From live news updates to concerts in the comfort of your living room, YouTube has proved just how powerful the platform still is. 

With two billion registered monthly users, YouTube is beyond a video platform – it’s a space for community, a place to discover (second largest search engine right after Google), and one of the greatest marketing tools. 

Ensuring your YouTube channel is optimized in every aspect is critical to its overall growth. To make sure you have all the tools necessary, The Orchard has this year’s YouTube Best Practices so you’re equipped for success!

Channel Features & Optimizations

What you see doesn’t mean it’s what you’ll always get. That’s why it’s crucial to have your channel aligned, well branded and organized to captivate the attention of a potential subscriber. 

Official Artist Channel vs. Verified

To start, it’s important to let viewers know your channel is the real deal. This can be denoted as  either an Official Artist Channel (OAC) or Verification

  • OACs (marked with a music note) are recommended for artists and consolidate the artist’s content & subscriber count from various YouTube artist channels (official YouTube channel, Vevo channel, and Topic channel) into one place
  • Verifications (marked with a check) are for labels and non-artist channels. Once a non-artist channel reaches 100K subscribers, there is the ability to request verification for the channel. This is a good way to let the YouTube world know your content is official.


It’s all about the visuals. Create customized, visually compelling, and relevant channel art to establish the brand. The banner is YouTube’s billboard for information. It should reflect recent release(s), upcoming tours, etc. and make the audience feel like they’re connecting with a personality, not just a brand. The banner should be updated often and be compatible on both desktop and mobile. The profile icon should also be aligned with the banner and be clear. In addition to the visuals, it’s imperative to include up to five links on the channel. These links can point to an official website, social media profiles, etc. Any other links should be added to the channel description. 

Here are the recommended formats for the icon and banner:

  • Icon: JPG, GIF, BMP, or PNG file (no animated GIFs); 800 x 800 px image (recommended); Square or round image that renders at 98 x 98 px
  • Banner: Channel art looks different on desktop, mobile, and TV displays — larger images may be cropped. For the best results on all devices, one 2560 x 1440 px image is recommended. File size should be 6MB or smaller.

Curated Channel Layout

Just like the branding, the overall organization and layout aids in solidifying the channel. 

The channel trailer is an elevator pitch to potential subscribers. It’s featured first on the channel and auto-plays, so it needs to hook the viewer. 

There are two customizable views:

  • Subscribed view is for returning and already subscribed users. (A new release or playlist, or a top playlist is recommended.)
  • Unsubscribed view is for new users. (An intro to the channel or the most popular video is recommended.)

Once the trailer video is set, it’s time to focus on the main attraction: the videos. 

Channel sections function as the main organizational tool for channel homepages. 

  • They make the channel page easy to browse and can be created dynamically from playlists. 
  • Consider curating from other channels’ content, organizing content into different groups (i.e. Official Videos, Official Lyric Videos, etc), and organizing videos (e.g. popular uploads), playlists (My Albums) or Channels (more from my network).


Playlists are a great way to keep the audience within the channel. On top of organizing the content, playlists increase watch-time and creates another opportunity to appear in search results and Suggested Videos. It’s a no-brainer: playlists should be an essential part of your channel’s strategy. You can create playlists using the channel’s videos, videos from other channels, or a combination of both. Ideas of playlists include series, mood playlists, albums, interviews, etc.  

  • To get the best results, optimize the playlists’ metadata, and direct viewers to these playlists via cards, end screens, community posts, and links. 
  • Make the metadata work for the channel; a strong title and description will help people find the playlist.

Channel Descriptions

Who runs the world? SEO. As you’re navigating channel optimization, keep in mind the power of YouTube’s search. 

  • Channel descriptions should be added in two places: the “About” tab and “Artist Center” in the creator studio. 

YouTube uses the “About” tab to populate SEO; adding a detailed bio and description with key terms assists YouTube in surfacing the channel higher in search. Remember to include the artist’s most popular songs, album names, genres, labels, locations, milestones, and any other search terms relevant to the artist or channel.

In the “Artist Center” tab in Creator Studio, add pictures and a biography to the About tab as well as the YouTube Music app. It’s important to keep the branding across platforms consistent for familiarity, and ensure the channel comes across to fans as the official source of the artist’s content on YouTube.

Additional Features

It’s all in the details. Essential features to keep tabs on are channel tags, featured channels and custom url

Similar to video tags, channel tags help surface the channel in YouTube search and in other algorithms, such as Google. For example, add the year, common misspellings of popular song titles or albums or names, genres, song titles, albums, geography. The more, the better, as long as they’re relevant. 2021 YouTube Best Practices

To promote other content and drive traffic between two channels, link featured channels in the “Channels” tab.


Creating a custom URL allows fans to easily find and remember your channel. It should be something clear and memorable such as ArtistName /ArtistOfficial /LabelRecords /LabelMusic, etc. We recommend using the same handle as other social platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to keep uniformity.

Video Optimizations & Features

Video Titles, Descriptions and Tags

Each video has its own SEO opportunity outside of the actual channel. Through proper video titles, descriptions, and tags, you can ensure that the right audience is being targeted. 


Video titles give viewers a sense of what to expect from a video whether it be an Official Audio, Music Video, Lyric Video, Behind The Scenes, Live Interview, etc. For artists, be sure to include the name of the artist and the title of the track. If there are multiple or featured artists, you can also mention them with “@” symbol. 

Video descriptions are another way YouTube is able to utilize SEO. In short, the descriptions really help viewers find your videos. Make sure all of the important information is showcased in the first two sentences of the description – it’s what shows in search and on the video page. 

  • Within the description, include links to subscribe, point to all social platforms, link to other videos or playlists, any purchase links (merch/song/album) and lyrics. This comes into play when users can’t remember the title of the song so they search by lyric. 
  • Include appropriate hashtags without spaces; the first three hashtags appear below the video and above the video title. Use hashtags that are a part of a larger searches, such as “#NewMusic, #Artist, #Album, #Genre, #Event”

Just like the channel tags, video tags help in targeting the right audience. In this case, the more the merrier. 

  • Add more tags to videos as long as they remain relevant to the video (500 character limit). You can include a mix of general and specific tags to accurately describe each video. 
  • This can be the artist name or different variations of it, title of the song, easily misspelled words that people may be searching for, lyrics of the song, the year, albums, genre, geography, new music tags, the type of video, and more. 

Video Features

Beyond the SEO optimizations, there are also features within the video that generate more engagement within the channel. The additional features available are cards, end screens, watermarks, subtitles, and merch shelf. 

  • Cards allow you to link up to five different card types – this can include other videos, merch, streaming, donation sites, tour tickets, playlists, and more. What’s great about this function is that it allows viewers to follow through on another call-to-action without having to stop the video. The card button appears as the “i” in the top right hand corner throughout the video. 
  • Adding end-screens to videos helps curate and lengthen a viewer’s watch session. End-screens, as the name suggests, are elements that pop up on the screen once the video is coming to an end. Here you can add a subscribe link or link to other videos and playlists. Make sure to keep these updated to push to relevant and/or priority content.

Another important watch session feature to add is the “branding watermark” button. It sits on the lower right hand corner of each video and when scrolled over, allows the user to subscribe to the channel without leaving the video. 

Your channel doesn’t have to be limited to one language. Enabling subtitles/(CC)/translations opens the content to a larger audience – including those who don’t speak the language or would prefer to have the lyrics on the screen. Translations contribute to the overall metadata of the video. 

One of the newest features is the merch shelf. Now eligible channels can promote their merch right below the description of videos and on the “Store” tab of the main channel. 



Thumbnails are the job interviews of YouTube – you want to make the BEST first impression the moment they see your video, so make them count! Thumbnails should be bright and easy to see (not dark or blurry), with a clear picture of the artist or a striking image that’s on-brand to grab the attention of potential fans. Change up the thumbnails within your channel! Here’s your space to get creative within the brand by using distinct thumbnails for each video to aid user experience.

And most importantly, always optimize for mobile — more than 70% of views come from mobile.



Beyond its abilities to host content, YouTube has become a space for community and engaging with the audience. Like other social platforms, artists and labels alike can communicate directly with the fans in chats, the community tab, and more. 



Community” is YouTube’s social feed. With the ability to post photos, GIFs, polls and text updates, it’s a great way to directly engage with fans by giving them unique content and general updates. To foster a more connected fanbase, we recommend liking/replying to comments. Posting on Community keeps the channel active in YouTube’s algorithm, especially when the artist goes a length of time without posting, or before uploading new content.



YouTube Premiere gives fans the opportunity to virtually gather together for a watch party at the time of launch. You can schedule a video upload and create a shareable watch page; stirring up buzz around the release with a countdown.

Super Chat & Super Stickers

Calling all super fans. YouTube recently launched Super Chat – a feature that allows viewers to voluntarily pay for their messages to be highlighted and pinned to the top of the live chat box on a livestream or Premiere video. The more they spend, the longer their comments stay and their chat color changes.

Viewers can also purchase Super Stickers – digital or animated images that pop up in the live chat feed and can be pinned to the top of the chat box. The features will automatically be enabled on all future livestreams and Premiere. 


YouTube Live

Now more than ever, it’s important to stay connected and engaged with fanbases.

YouTube Live gives you a way to connect with new and old fans, creating a real time experience to engage with viewers directly (+ you can monetize your stream.)


YouTube Stories

Give fans a moment by moment update with YouTube stories! Think Instagram Stories – but the video segments can be 15 seconds long and expire after 7 days.



For more details on the 2021 YouTube Best Practices, check out the presentation below!

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