A $5 YouTube Ad Experiment

YouTube $5 Ad Experiment

I just finished running my first ever YouTube ad campaign through Google AdWords. With a $5 budget, I set out to see just what I could get for the price of a Starbucks latte.

I’m sharing my experience because I know I’m not the only stingy, nerdy, web guy out there wondering about YouTube ads. If you’re considering building up an audience on YouTube, for whatever reason, you might want to consider running a few small YouTube ad campaigns.


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The ad campaign was for one video: WordPress 4.4: New Features Montage.

YouTube was spending money a little faster than I expected, so I extended the campaign for 2 days, costing me $7 instead of $5. Was it worth it? Read on to find out…

Strictly By The Numbers

For all you numbers nerds out there, here’s a breakdown of the data.

Campaign Report (from AdWords)

This data was pulled directly from AdWords. It only includes what AdWords can directly relate to the ad campaign. This does not include extra promotion or attention the video may have received as an indirect cause of running the ad. More on the indirect effect below.

  • Campaign Time: 9 days (12/2-12/10)
  • My Max CPV: $0.02 (cost per view)
  • Spent: $7.01
  • Impressions: 2,045
    • 1,958 in-stream
    • 87 in-display
  • Video Views: 556
    • 554 in-stream
    • 2 in-display
  • View Rate: 27.19%
    • 28.29% in-stream
    • 2.30% in-display
  • Avg. CPV: $0.01 (cost per view)
  • Clicks: 6   CTR: 0.31%
  • Earned Views: 3
  • Watched 100% of video ad: 16.88%
  • Earned subscribers/shares/likes: 0

From YouTube Analytics

This data was not directly related to the AdWords campaign, but it represents data about the video that I ran the campaign for, during the same time in which the campaign was running. While I can’t say with certainty that these numbers were a result of the ad campaign, I have good reason to believe that the ad impacted these numbers.

Much of the activity that occurred on other videos on my channel happened on videos that I linked to from the WordPress 4.4 video. I don’t think these other videos would have gotten as much exposure if it weren’t for the traffic that the ad brought to the advertised video.

Data from 12/2-12/10

General Channel Stats

  • Subscribers: 5 gained, 0 lost
    • 2 from the video, 2 from my channel page, 1 from a different video
    • For the entire month of November, I gained 2 subscribers
  • Views: 1,754
  • Watch Time: 2,058 minutes
  • Likes/Dislikes: 5 likes, 1 dislike
  • Shares: 22
  • Card clicks: 5
  • Annotation clicks: 5
  • Estimated Earnings: $2.18

Video-Specific Stats

  • Views: 1,415
  • Watch Time: 1,368 minutes
  • Likes/Dislikes: 2 likes, 1 dislike
  • Shares: 22
  • Card clicks: 5
  • Annotation clicks: 2
  • Estimated Earnings: $1.20

Analyzing the Numbers

Analytics is far more than just numbers. We must interpret those numbers, hypothesize their meaning and test our theories.

The raw data here only tells a small part of the story. I’m not suggesting that this campaign was an enormous, overnight success, but we need to dig deeper to get a better understanding of the true impact of the campaign, and what kind of ROI it actually provided.

All of the following data looks at the 9 days during which the ad was running, compared to the previous 9 days immediately preceding it.

Watch Time & Views

For the past several years, YouTube has used Watch Time as a key metric in its search algorithm. Views can be deceptive if you get hooked in with a misleading title or thumbnail, and only watch a very small percentage of a video. But if you watch a large chunk of that video, it’s a good indication that it was a better match for your search query. Let’s take a look at both metrics.

Watch Time vs. Views

  • Watch Time went from 252 to 2,058 minutes. That’s an increase of 1,806 minutes (~800%). The advertised video accounted for 1,368 of the 2,058 (66%) total watch time.
  • Views went from 122 to 1,754. That’s an increase of 1,632 minutes (over 1,000%). The advertised video accounted for most of those, but remember, the ad stats could only directly tie 556 views to the campaign. 556 out of 1,754 views is only 31%. The other 69% of video views (1,198 views) came from other videos.
  • During the advertised time period, my #2 and #3 most-watched videos (which I did not run an ad for) each accumulated more watch time than my #1 most-watched video from the previous time period.

Watch Time vs. Views Comparison

All About the Benjamins

If you just want to look at money, my 7 dollars didn’t get me a whole lot in return. I got $2 back, for a net loss of $5. That assumes that ALL earnings during this time period are attributed to the ad, which is possible, but somewhat unlikely. About $0.75 of the earnings came from other videos (which may or may not have been watched had I not run the ad).

YouTube Ad estimated earnings graph
Estimated earnings between 12/2 – 12/10

Channel Engagement

Money matters, but it’s not everything. Especially when you’re just starting out. With only 15 videos, 30 subscribers, and about 4 weeks of consistent uploading, I didn’t expect to make a fortune. I was hoping to at least make my money back, but I went into this with low expectations. I was just curious what I could get for $5. Aside from what AdWords told me, and the $1.50 in revenue I received, courtesy of my advertised video, what else did I receive from my $7 video ad?

  • Heavily increased watch time. With this being a key metric in YouTube’s algorithm, increasing Watch Time for a few of my videos will help them show up in future searches.
  • A few (10-15) subscribers. Even though none were directly attributed to the ad, I’m confident that the 5 subscribers I received during the campaign, as well as the 8 I’ve received in the week following the ad, probably wouldn’t have happened without the ad.
  • Video embedded on a few sites. Looking through the external sites in the playback report, I noticed a few legitimate blogs that have embedded my video. They only account for a few views here and there for now, but this helps increase my reach over the long haul.
  • Brand recognition. Specifically in the WordPress community. People who watched my video saw the name & logo for WP Smackdown. If they see it in future search results on Google’s SERPs, or social media, they’ll be more likely to remember it. And hopefully care a little more about what we have to say (on YouTube & our website).

With so few card click-throughs, very little traffic was sent back to wpsmackdown.com.

YouTube Subscriber Increase

Ad Types: In-stream vs. In-display

In-stream ads are the skippable video ads that play before other videos. In-display ads appear in search results, as recommendations in the sidebar when watching other videos, etc. They consistent of your thumbnail image & some text.

I setup the campaign to run both types of ads, and optimize for the greatest exposure. Turns out, I only received 2 views from in-display ads. And they cost me 6x more than each view of my in-stream ads.

Learn more about In-stream vs. In-display video ads in YouTube’s help center.

In-stream vs. In-display ad performance
In-stream vs. In-display ad performance

What Did I Do Well?


I launched the ad campaign 6 days before WordPress 4.4 was released; but there was already significant buzz happening. Multiple blogs had already posted about upcoming features. People were curious.

I did see the most activity on the day of the release, but there was plenty of action during the days prior. Not to mention the following 2 days, as well.

I recommend using Google Trends, researching other sites & blogs, and just your general knowledge about the topic, and consider the timing of your ad campaign.

Related Content

I only received a few card & annotation clicks, but that’s in large part because I only spent $7. I did, however, make sure that the video I advertised had references to other videos in it, and I used annotations & cards to help promote it.

Use one video advertisement as an opportunity to promote your other videos. Show potential subscribers that you’re more than a one-trick pony. You’ve got other great material waiting for them.

What Would I Do Differently?

Use a video with a longer shelf-life

I chose the WordPress 4.4 New Features video for a couple of reasons:

  • It was relatively short (just over a minute).
  • It was much more catchy than a boring tutorial video.
  • It was one of the most searched for topics that I had a video about.

Looking back, however, it also has a short shelf-life. I significantly increased both views & watch time, but in a few weeks, no one will care about WordPress 4.4 anymore. The searches will die down, and all the work I did ($7 of ads) to increase watch time… won’t continue to yield any positive results.

Had I advertised a video that consistently gets 1,000+ searches/mo., and will remain a hot topic for months to come, the watch time would yield better exposure in search results, and ultimately provide more ROI.

Run only In-Stream ads

I paid 1 cent for each view of an in-stream ad, compared to 6 cents for each view of an in-display ad. I only got 2 views from in-display ads, so it’s tough to measure engagement with any level of accuracy, it’s safe to say it’s likely not even worth it. Had I spent $20, $50 or $100, I think my money would have yielded much better results if I stuck with in-stream ads.

If you’ve ever run a YouTube ad – of any type or magnitude – I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What did I do well/poorly? What advice do you have for me, and our audience, about ways to improve performance? How did your campaign do? If you’re open to sharing some numbers, I’d love to compare.

16 Commentson "A $5 YouTube Ad Experiment"

  1. /

    They don’t really explain the whole cost thing very well on YouTube, when it says campaign budget is that the MAX cost you will pay or no?

    → Reply
    1. (Author) /

      Hi Tony — Yes, my understanding is that the campaign budget is the max amount that you will pay. I haven’t run an ad recently, so I’m not 100% sure, but I believe they let you set a budget for each day, as well as a total budget.

      As in my example, YouTube might decide to spend a dollar or two more than your budget, especially if your budget is really small. But they shouldn’t go much over what you set as your budget.

  2. /

    Hi, this is a nice experiment you do here, I want to ask a few questions if I may :
    1) with your $5 budget, how long can you advertise your video? I mean, is there a rate for advertising on youtube like $3 a day or something like that?
    2) does the targeted category affect for advertise pricing?
    3) can you set (let’s say) $400 ad budget for like only 1 day or 1 whole week?
    I just discover youtube ads like a few days ago and I’m interested in it, but since I know nothing of it, I would like to gather information first. Thank you

    → Reply
    1. (Author) /

      Hey Raka,

      I’ll try to answer you questions as best I can…

      1. YouTube allows you to choose either a campaign budget or a daily budget. Using the daily budget option, you can spread your marketing out more over time. If you set a lower campaign budget, Google could go through it very quickly. For the 3 YouTube video ads I’ve run so far, I paid between $0.01-$0.02 per video view. However, this could be much different depending on industry, demand, competition, etc. I suspect, though, that you’ll pay no more than $0.05 per view.

      2. I’m not sure if targeting affects pricing. My guess is NO, but I can’t be sure.

      3. Like I said in #1, you can choose either a campaign budget or a daily budget. So you could choose a $400 daily budget and use it all up in one day. Or choose a $57 daily budget to make $400 last all week.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. And if you can remember to check back and let me know how your campaign goes, I’d love to share stats :-)

  3. /

    Hello there!
    Is it legal to run AdWords and AdSense for the same video at the same time? I mean paying money to promote a YT video (by AdWords) that already has ads on it by (AdSense)? I got my AdSense account suspended for 30 days and I think the way above was the reason. What do you think?


    → Reply
    1. (Author) /

      Hi Jagsson — I’m not entirely sure what you mean. See my questions below, but I will also share my experience.

      When you say “run AdSense” for a video, do you just mean enabling the “monetize” option for your video? So that the video has ads on it? — If so, then I think that is totally OK. The couple of videos that I have used AdWords to promote, they’ve all been monetized. And YouTube has not done anything to my account. I think that’s perfectly within their terms.

      If there’s another way to “run AdSense on a YouTube video,” can you please explain how you set this up?

    2. /

      Thanks for your answer. That was exactly what I meant. I thought it was therefore the account was suspended. but I guess not. Maybe one of my children clicked on an ad on on of our videos. It is strange if the AdSense system is that sensitive that one or two clicks can cause the account to be closed.

  4. /

    Hi Dave!

    It’s hard to find case studies such as yours on the internet, even in Warriorforum or BHW. I just wanted to say thanks for your time for sharing this.

    Here is my question: “How did you target your viewers?” By placing Youtube addresses of related topics, or just by keywords?

    Finally, I didn’t see any invitation or arrow for viewers to click your link below. I believe if you find many related videos and target them by their Youtube address, and hire someone from Fiverr to create you an exciting video that invites people to click your link below, you may get much better results. Also, they say that your link should be at the top of your description, but yours is not.

    I’m very happy to be have found your site, and waiting to learn from all of your future experiences. Your hard work is most appreciated.

    Kind regards,

    Gokhan DONMEZ

    → Reply
    1. (Author) /

      Hi Gokhan — Thanks for reading, and for your kind words.

      In terms of targeting, I pulled back up my ad and the only targeting it looks like I did was the keyword “wordpress.” I agree with you about targeting other channels that have similar interests. That’s a great idea.

      I’m not sure what you’re referring to about “invitation or arrow for viewers to click your link below.” If you could explain that further, I can comment on it.

    2. /

      In the videos you created via Camtasia (or another software) you can say something like this: “For further information, you may click the link in the description below (or the banner on the right).” or even add an arrow in your video pointing where they should click. This is for increasing the clicks to your site, if you are interested. You simply tell them to click your link in the description in your video.

      I saw that your CTR is around 0.3%, which is quite low. Not every people know where to click, and years ago I was one of them. You must guide them where to click, and encourage them to click the link. This way, you may increase your CTR.

      In one of Vick Strizheus’s educational videos, I saw one man testing 2 different videos for Youtube ads. One of those video’s CTR was 10%. The other was around 30%, and that was just 33 seconds, a whiteboard explanation video. You can hire someone on Fiverr.com to create such a video for you, for around $5.

      Again, I’m telling you all these just if you are interested in more clicks to your site ;).

    3. (Author) /

      Ah. Gotcha. Thanks for the tip. I’ll remember that next time I’m promoting a video that I want people to take action on.

      Thanks Gokhan!

  5. /

    I have a youtube channel that needs to reach more people. Is adwords the way to make your videos rank first?
    Also, have you received videos getting more views in general?

    → Reply
    1. (Author) /

      Hi Lily — AdWords is one way to gain more video views, but there is no guarantee that it’s going to make your videos rank first.

      There is no single formula to boost a video to the top of YouTube rankings, and the algorithm they use is always changing. As a general rule, I believe YouTube creators should always focus on these 3 things, as a starting point:

      • total watch time
      • view duration of each video
      • engagement (likes, shares, comments)

      The more you can do to increase those things, the better your channel will perform. AdWords can give your video some instant exposure, but it still needs to be a useful/popular video after the AdWords campaign is over, and continue to perform well in those three areas.

      If you believe you have created a truly amazing video that you feel is worth of thousands of YouTube views, an AdWords campaign could help it jump to the front of the line. But there’s never any guarantee.

  6. /

    I think because your video was about an update that people would search for that the Google Adwords was somewhat effective. But there are many problems with their service with lot of people complaining about it, some go as far as accusing Google of paying people to click on and watch videos.

    I don’t believe they are doing this, it would not be cost effective in the least, even if they were hiring people in third world countries, though never say never.

    But something is amiss for sure. The last video I posted was about attending Fashion Week in New York City and was titled as such. All key words had something to do with this event etc. When I set up my campaign I set it up as In-Display. I realized you get less views with this (and Google makes less money), but they are more quality views and would most likely lead to better watch time.

    However when I checked my stats this campaign cost more then it should and the stats revealed that %67 of the viewers were MALE??? Why?? The thumbnail did not show any scantily clad women. It is a video about fashion geared to women.

    In addition almost all of them watched the video just long enough a bit over the 30 seconds to ding the account and get charged for a view. So I can see how some people believe they are paying people to click on the paid videos, but again this would not be cost effective.

    However in this case they are obviously ran the ad as In-Stream even though I did not want this. And they must have run it before/on a video that was geared towards men. I believe they did this as I did not make my settings super strict (kind of left it wide open, didn’t think I had to opt out of male viewers) and they wanted to use up the money before the campaign ended as I had a set end date. This way they use the money up and then some before it stops. If they left in In-Display only I may not get have a lot of views but I also would not have been charged AND Google would not make money. It is in their interest to make money.

    It makes zero sense that an In-Display ad of a video about fashion would have a %67 male viewership, though clicking off a little over 30 secs makes sense as of course they do not want to actually watch a video about fashion. But quite skeptical that they they all waited long enough to charge the account.

    And forget about their off shore customer service they are trained to know nothing. That was in February and I have not posted a video since.

    → Reply
    1. (Author) /

      I appreciate the time you took to type this all up. My example was a tiny sampling of the YouTube ad experience. Your experience provides a valuable, second opinion.

      1. Do you have any links/sources where people accuse Google of paying people to click & watch videos? I’d love to read through their experiences and see what kind of evidence they have.

      2. Everything else you mention sounds unfair to you. If Google was running your ad as In-Stream when you explicitly told it to do In-Display only, that’s terrible.

      I have noticed with a handful of regular Google Ads (formerly AdWords) campaigns that I’ve setup, that if you leave the default settings, or don’t spend a bunch of time with targeting, they will run your ad to A LOT of people, and eat through your money fast.

      It’s unfortunate, but most of corporate America works this way, too.

      Sorry you had such a bad experience :-/

    2. /

      A Mackin – One thought is that I believe it costs more to advertise fashion to women. If your maximum bid is low and you haven’t excluded men from your targeting, you’re going to be shown to a lot more men than women, if any women at all.

      Also, if you’re using in-display, the simple act of clicking will count as a view, not watching 30 seconds as is the case with in-stream. So men click (maybe even accidentally) then click away immediately, leaving you to pay the bill.

      I’m no expert, but those are things I’ve read while researching. Thanks, Dave, for adding to that research with this article!

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