The Ten Percent Rule

One of the first questions I’m always asked when people find I out that I run a YouTube channel is, “how many subscribers do you have?” This is the most visible metric, and unfortunately, the most misleading of them.

New YouTubers will often time quote the “ten percent” rule, and judge channels accordingly. The rule goes something like this: “each video you produce should receive ten percent of your total subscriber count.” Channels that violate this norm are thought of as gaming the system. That is, buying views for videos to give the appearance of an active channel.

Unless you’re making one type of content, you’ll find this rule is also a myth. My channel has almost 3.5k subscribers and here are the numbers for my recent videos:

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 9.58.18 PM.png

You’ll notice that the videos are averaging around 50 views. By the ten percent rule, I should have 500 subs, so thus, my channel is underperforming.

The answer, like all answers, can be found in the analytics. Here’s a listing of my most popular videos during this time period:

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 10.00.54 PM.png

Only three videos in that list are gameplay related. The others are video tutorials. This tells you that my channel’s audience finds the most value from my tutorials, and my Let’s Play content is a minority even though that’s the majority of the content.

In fact, it may be safe to say, that my audience for my Let’s Play content is far smaller than my tutorial content.  Already, you can see that my audience is splintered. I’d need to do some in-depth audience analysis to determine the size of the various factions, but this balkanization means that my video views will be smaller per video.

If I were to ballpark, I’d say my LP audience size is probably around a thousand and that audience can easily be broken up per game. I had one guy who subscribed to my channel just to watch Fallout 4. When I finished the game, I never heard from him again.

The list also tells you where my talents may lie. I should be making video tutorials, but I actually do that for my day job.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 10.16.59 PM.png

It also highlights another aspect of YouTube — producing compelling Let’s Play videos is hard. This is because the competition is fierce. As soon as a game is released, whether it be a AAA masterpiece or a Steam early access vomit drop, the search listings are flooded with videos.

Conversely, producing quality tutorials is much easier, because the competition is pretty weak (content and technical wise). People who make tutorials rarely pay attention to quality and curriculum.

This year, I took over my work’s YouTube channel and consistently upload high-quality tutorials with targeted SEO. The results have been really nice so far.


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This is for 2017. You can see where we started our daily uploads.


So is this the ten percent rule a myth? For the overall sub count, I say yes. Definitely. But, if you break up your audience according to your content type, then it may end up being in the ballpark. The key thing is to not feel bad about your videos performing to some imaginary ideal.

The true moral of the story, don’t look for subs. Keep your eye on watch time and the subs will follow. As for watch time, that, of course, is another blog post entirely.



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