How to grow a YouTube poker audience with Thomas Keeling

How to grow a YouTube poker audience with Thomas Keeling

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-13-52-58As you will have already read, my interest in the poker industry this year is clearly going to be on YouTube poker, which I think is where we will see all the innovative content and marketing. When I discovered the man behind the Doug Polk YouTube account was Thomas ‘SrslySirius’ Keeling, I knew I had to speak to him because I have always respected his work and knew that Polk’s channel growth was no fluke. Normally for interviews I would do edited highlights but I think there is so much we can all learn from this I’ve decided to reproduce it verbatim.

I really have learned a huge amount from this short chat, I hope you do too:

BC: The reason I reached out to you was because I was really impressed with your headlines and thumbnails on Doug Polk’s channel, which mirror what I have tested works (on a smaller scale). Did you develop these through trial and error?

TK: For the most part we’ve come up with this stuff via trial and error, much of it from observation of what works for other channels on YouTube, but most of it has been testing, watching the results and seeing what happens.

BC: Other than views, what are the metrics that are allowing you to test what works and what doesn’t in YouTube analytics?

TK: The analytics available on YouTube are quite robust now. In addition to raw views you can look at things like average time the viewers spend watching, viewer retention, engagement, likes and comments.

Unfortunately you can’t see clickthrough rates on thumbnails, you can see how often they are coming up on these new end cards. We also look at velocity, how many views are coming in the first 24-72 hours when a video is released. We have seen that the videos with high velocity have come when we’ve had good thumbnail and title combinations.

“Thumbnails might be the most important thing”

Thomas Keeling

Thomas Keeling

BC: As a consumer I assume that the thumbnails are the most important factor, so it’s a shame you can’t measure their success in the analytics.

TK: I may be biased because I create the thumbnails and spend a great deal of time thinking about them, but I think it might be the most important thing. Unfortunately there are no metrics to see how often people click on a video in the sidebar. When one video blows up in the first ten hours, you can pretty much deduce it is the thumbnail. Much like everything else, the approach to thumbnails has been experimenting and trying new things. Even now we are trying new out of the box stuff, even things like fonts and colours, experimenting with arrows and cash in the thumbnails. It’s an interesting incomplete information game, there is a lot of guesswork involved, but over time you can see patterns.

BC: In Google Analytics you can actually test thumbnails because it has a lot built in to show you which buttons were clicked, which parts of the website people hovered over etc.

TK: I wish YouTube had that. There is something cool in the analytics which is a retention graph, which is a line graph which shows how many people are still there for the course of the video. For example in a hand video you can see at the timestamp where a hand is shown down you will often see spikes in that part of the retention graph, as people are skipping ahead as that is the most interesting part. Even in comedy videos we are seeing spikes in jokes that were well received, maybe people were rewatching. You can also see dramatic fall offs when the videos are wrapping up or it gets to the end card.

BC: I presume that has led to you getting much leaner in your editing?

TK: One of the things we quickly discovered is that you kinda want to get to the point and once you get to the result you want to cut it off. You don’t want to back end or front load a video with things the viewer is not interested in. So if it’s a hand video you don’t want to talk for two minutes full screen with no footage, likewise once the hand is over, it’s probably a bad idea to talk for another two minutes. You don’t see too many big channels with long flashy intros, that’s one of the rookie mistakes.

“Most growth comes from organic marketing”

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Joe Ingram

BC: Other than the fact that Doug is well known in poker, has most of the channel’s growth come organically from good YouTube marketing?

TK: The vast majority of it has been organic through YouTube. Most of the people who watch are not subscribers, they are people who discovered it from the YouTube recommendations sidebar and the homepage. YouTube itself is very adept at figuring out what content you enjoy. If you watch skateboarding videos from time to time, YouTube’s going to start recommending you skateboarding channels you haven’t seen before. If you watch WSOP videos there is a very good chance they will recommend you Doug Polk videos too. From that and also good titles and thumbnails, then once we have got them through the door Doug’s personality and the quality of the product is what persuaded them to subscribe.

Once you succeed on YouTube and are making good content that retains people, it’s really a meritocracy and YouTube will promote you.

BC: I get the impression that one of the other big YouTube successes, Joe Ingram, has grown his channel purely from 2+2 and not from the YouTube marketing stuff, is that a fair assessment?

TK: Yes, I believe that is where the vast majority of his audience came from. I like Joey a lot, he’s a friend, but Joey was never about going into the lab to figure out YouTube GTO. Joey does it for the love of the game. I was much the same way on my own channel. Recently he has become very interested in YouTube strat so we might see more of that. He hasn’t had the same goals as Doug and I, he is just having fun with it.

BC: I guess the big difference between Doug’s channel and Joey’s is highlighted with how many casual poker fans you get. Do you have any way of distinguishing between the serious players and the casuals?

TK: There is nothing in the analytics that will tell you that, we can see general analytics like age, gender, country etc. It varies from video to video, when we put out a comedy video that only gets 30,000 views, we know that the makeup of those viewers are the TwoPlusTwo guys who watch every day, the hardcore fans. Whereas a hand breakdown that gets 200,000 views, that was generated by the YouTube algorithm. Some of the comments on the videos say “Who the fuck is this guy telling Dan Colman how he should play his card?”. These are super casual people. We are making an effort to attract these people to grow the channel and potentially grow the game. The bigger the video, the more casual representation there is.

“We can outdo 300,000 subscribers”

BC: You are already getting six-figure views for some videos, how big can a poker YouTube channel get?

TK: It is a new trial being blazed here, Doug is already the biggest guy on YouTube poker. If we don’t count individual people, the PokerStars account has close to 300,000 subscribers. If a company can do that, an individual should be able to outdo that. The biggest accounts on YouTube are personalities. If PokerStars can do 300k I think the ceiling is beyond that, though I don’t know how long it would take.

BC: Given that the serious poker market is still small compared to eSports, is it feasible somebody could make a living purely from poker Youtube?

TK: If somebody approached me saying they wanted to do that, I would advise caution or at least say don’t put your eggs in one basket. Ad revenue on YouTube is tough, in general a ballpark of a CPM of $1 to $2. It’s the same for any other person wanting to make a career on YouTube, you’d have to be making millions of views per month which is very hard. No matter what niche you are in, you should be diversifying. The best thing you could do is have a product. There is a big YouTuber called Jeffree Star who does makeup tutorials but also has her own brand of makeup which she probably makes way more off than ad revenue. Some people use Patreon and Crowdfunding, guys like Jaime Staples are doing YouTube and Twitch. I’m sure it is possible to make it on YouTube alone, but it would take a really long time and a lot of work.

BC: I noticed last year YouTube started unmonetising news videos because they were not advertiser friendly, does poker have this problem at all?

TK: Yeah, there was recently a big stir in the community about new “advertiser friendly” guidelines. Thus far we have had no problems, I have stayed clear of using the term gambling just in case it makes videos unmonetisable or puts an age filter on. As a poker channel it would probably be a mistake to use the ‘G word’ anyway. All the videos have been monetisable unless there were copyright issues, in which case the content holders get the revenue.

BC: Most of your videos surely come under ‘fair use’ though surely?

TK: I strongly believe they all fall within fair use. The way YouTube works is they have a system called ‘content ID’ where is you upload a Rhianna song, YouTube will automatically detect the song and the record label will have a predetermined course of action where they either let you use it and take the ad revenue, or say no. 99% of the time rights holders have the box checked where they say slap an ad on it and give us the revenue. That is what happens with High Stakes Poker, it is monetised but the Doug Polk channel gets none of the revenue, the Game Show Network does.

“Partner with talented personalities”

daniel-negreanu-la-2009-world-series-poker-romanian-interviewBC: So what does the future hold for poker on YouTube?

TK: I’m really excited to see more people pop into the streets of YouTube. You have Daniel Negreanu there, which is great, you have these bloggers that are great for the community. When Andrew Neeme was really taking off, everyone on poker YouTube started seeing boosts in their views and subscribers. It was good for everybody, if Negreanu can figure some of these things out and do amazing numbers, it would be good for everyone on YouTube. It’s kinda early, it seems like we are at the beginning, I’m really interested to see what happens the beginning and next for poker YouTube.

BC: I’m anticipating a wave of poker operators, companies and affiliates paying attention to YouTube in the next couple of years. What should a Ladbrokes, a PokerStrategy or a PokerNews be doing?

TK: Partner with talented personalities, make great content, and put in the work. Optimizing stuff like scheduling, titles, and thumbnails will only get you so far if you’re lacking in other areas. A clickable video won’t get far in the suggestion algorithm if the content sucks and viewers bail. Probably the biggest issue I see is volume. It’s a big commitment to make, and there aren’t many people in poker willing to put out more than a video or two per week. A resourceful company could shore up that weakness, with the right team. Then again, even huge companies like PokerStars have glaring, baffling leaks in their content strategy. A little common sense goes a long way, too.

You can see Thomas’s work on Doug Polk’s YouTube Channel and follow him directly on Twitter.

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