YouTube creator Collins Key on how a data-driven strategy helped him gain 19 million subscribers after an initial spark of fame from his magic act

Being successful on YouTube as a creator can be a challenge, but one thing is certain: You need a strategy.

The YouTube star Collins Key, who got his start on "America's Got Talent" in 2013 performing magic at 16 years old, now has a YouTube channel with over 19 million subscribers. Key and his brother Devan grew their channel from 2 million to 19 million subscribers in a little over two years.

In an interview with Business Insider, Collins Key shared his tips for growing a YouTube channel and gaining millions of views per video.

'Data doesn't lie'

Key was the first magician to reach the finals of "America's Got Talent." While on "AGT," Key said he "went all out on social media," building up a following and connecting with fans from the show. He would post hour-long live streams and weekly YouTube videos, and he kept up with his Instagram and Facebook pages daily. After the season, he toured with Demi Lovato on her Neon Lights tour, performing magic.

After the tour, Key said he was approached by several traditional media agents who called him a "star" and said he could "forget social media and YouTube" because he was going to be huge. But that soon died down, and Key said he experienced six months of silence. In 2015, he officially decided to focus on his YouTube channel, which at the time had 90,000 subscribers.

When there's no TV executive to call the shots, Key said, you need to look to the data yourself because "data doesn't lie." With his family, Key took a data-driven approach to YouTube, and he said that was ultimately what grew the channel to what it is today.

How to measure data on YouTube and create a video that'll fit YouTube's algorithm

By the end of 2017, the Collins Key YouTube channel had grown from 2 million subscribers (20 million video views a month) to 10 million subscribers (150 million views a month), according to Key. The channel is now at 19 million subscribers and has continued to gain roughly 150 million video views every month since.

But each month, the brothers upload only one or two videos, compared with the weekly, or sometimes daily, video-upload schedule typical to many YouTube creators.

Key said as he focused on YouTube as his main outlet, he began to measure the overall success and performance of each video, using the data provided by YouTube. Key looks closely at his videos' overall watch times — the length a viewer watches a video for — and its click-through rate, or the percentage of times a video's thumbnail image is clicked.

These factors are taken into account by YouTube's automated algorithm, which helps a video's overall reach by picking it up and suggesting it to users. They also help determine whether a video will make money through Google's AdSense program and how much it'll earn. Google AdSense also takes into account viewer demographic.

Read more: YouTube star Shelby Church breaks down how much money a video with 1 million views makes her

"To really be successful on YouTube, you need to understand how the platform works, the data of it, how to algorithm works, how AI promotes the content," Key said. "All of the technical aspects of the things that make content blow up on YouTube."

YouTube has promoted many of the Key's videos online, and his videos are often displayed on YouTube's trending page.

But, Key said, measuring data on its own isn't enough to be successful; it is also important to figure out new ways to grab a viewer's attention.

The Collins Key YouTube channel has 19 million subscribers.

Collins Key/YouTube

Apply your craft to YouTube and use the data provided to see what worked

Key took his magic and performance skills from "AGT" and applied them to his YouTube channel. He also brought on his brother Devan, who incorporated his knowledge of art into making the thumbnail images.

"YouTube is a craft, just like magic, art, acting," Key said. "We looked at YouTube in the exact same way. There was a very strategic, intentional way of going about it."

"One thing that we learned very early on, that we talk a lot about with our company, is that YouTube is about being dependable without being predictable," he added.

A creator can do this by setting up what a fan can expect every time they come to their channel. For Key's channel, the goal is to leave fans with "an enthusiasm for life," and it's about continually being creative and keeping it fun, he said.

But a creator shouldn't keep doing the same thing over and over again.

"If it becomes predictable, meaning that every video becomes the same, or our reaction to everything becomes the same, or the way we execute it becomes the same, then why would they watch the video?" Key said.

Key said he tried to figure out what worked and what didn't on his channel as fast as he could. If something didn't work for them, they'd cut it and move on. If something did work, they'd look to see how they could develop that more.

"It's a really fun and exciting culture," Key said about being on YouTube. "Everyone feels it. They feel that they are on the cutting edge of something new. This is something that is unexplored that we are basically making up the rules as we go."


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