Guides and how-tos are a thriving category on YouTube. Here are some data-driven tips that you can incorporate into your strategy. 

More than half of YouTube users watch videos to learn how to do something for the first time, according to Pew Research.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram, YouTube is focused on consumption, and it’s unusually directed toward usefulness. And there is A LOT of consumption going on — a one-hour outage on YouTube recently resulted in a 20 percent jump in traffic to publishers’ websites.

YouTube Pew Research
According to the survey, 86 percent of respondents said YouTube is either very important or somewhat important in helping them figure out how to do things they haven’t done before.

We’ve already highlighted how explainer videos and articles do well both on Facebook and the web, but we wanted to dive into the unique content landscape that is YouTube.

Using NewsWhip Spike, we analyzed the top how-to and explainer videos on the platform, by views, likes, and comments. Here’s what we learned from the data. 

Publishers drive views, influencers generally drive likes

We analyzed the top how-to videos by views, likes, and comments.

Viral publishers like 5-Minute Crafts, Blossom, and So Yummy drove the most views in our analysis, while influencers saw a higher number of likes.

Both drove comments, though influencers were again at the top of the chart for total comments. This makes sense, given the passionate fanbase that influencers often command.

The above video from 5-Minute Crafts drove 38.6 million views. The publisher had four of the top five most-viewed guides in our analysis.

All of its videos tend to feature a number of ideas in one video, running through each idea quickly and succinctly. This keeps viewers’ attention by moving onto the next tutorial in a matter of seconds, letting them see a wide range of different ideas.

Essentially, it’s the video version of a BuzzFeed listicle. 

Every topic and niche can provide an opportunity 

Within the top tutorials, we saw guides across almost every imaginable topic. Make-up, crafts, gaming, life hacks, recipes, and dancing tutorials were some of the most common topics.



For example, YouTuber James Charles had six of the top ten most-liked guides in our analysis, for his make-up tutorials.

Beyond those, there were incredibly niche guides. There were tutorials around hobbies like biking, PC building, cardboard gadgetry, and something called “squishies“.

Squishies guide
Somehow, this drove 5.2 million views, so these hobbies do have an untapped and passionate audience for content creators to rev up.

It’s worth noting that the style of these guides on YouTube is much different than other channels.

On Facebook, guides are short and snappy, much more of a checklist. On YouTube, guides are much more prescriptive, and again, longer, featuring step-by-step instructions. 

The how-tos aren’t always realistic 

The how-tos range from the practical, like “how to cook vegan lasagna”, to bizarre hypotheticals such as “how to beat Michael Myers”.
the film theorists
The key here is that the guide, while not actionable, is still satisfying for the viewer and answers a question. This presents plenty of space to play in for content creators.

Publishers have opportunities with explainer content

The content doesn’t need to be a toy review, a makeup guide, or DIY hacks.

According to Pew Research, nearly one in five respondents said that YouTube helps them understand things happening in the world — current events, news,  and other random questions.

Indeed, when we looked at news publishers, we saw this was the case. These were generally on-brand for the publishers.

Wall Street Journal flight
For example, the Wall Street Journal had a video: “How to Survive the Longest Flight in the World”, Wired had “Why It’s Almost Impossible to Skip a Stone 89 Times”, and the Economist had “How to prepare for the next global recession” for the time-span we analyzed.  

Lengthy videos on Youtube are fine

We’ve talked about how users are more receptive to long content on YouTube, but it’s fully evident from 5-minute crafts.

viral publisher how long video
Despite its moniker, 5-Minute Crafts had the longest average for its YouTube content of all the outlets we analyzed recently. It had nearly a 15-minute difference between its YouTube average and its Twitter average.

Additionally, YouTube recommends longer and longer content over time when a video completes. When Pew Research’s analysts started with videos that were approximately 9:31 long, by the fourth video recommendation they were served 15-minute-long videos.  

Sponsorships everywhere

Plenty of brands are creating how-to content as well, though influencers may provide access to a wider audience than the brand is reaching on its own.

The sponsored videos range from being clearly focused on a brand, to being significantly subtler.
Sponsored YouTube videos
An influencer can create content that the brand fits into in an organic and unjarring way. The above videos show the variety of brands that can find opportunities in tutorial content.

Despite this, the brands are also creating how-to content that drives noteworthy views and may seem to come from a place of expertise, though lacking the “character” that an influencer’s channel may provide.
McCormick Spice reached half a million views with just one of its recipe videos, Apple featured iPhone photography tutorials, and even Netflix offered “Surviving Exam Hell”.

As Netflix’s video demonstrates, the tutorial doesn’t need to be directly linked to your brand. As another example, Red Bull recently created a video on how to choose a snowboard.

Since viewers are likely navigating to content via the search bar or YouTube’s algorithm, the focus should be on the value the video is delivering to the consumer.

For more tips on how to create compelling video content across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, check out our social video guide