Are YouTube’s Advertiser Friendly Policies Too Draconian? Or Are Advertisers Not Being Fair to Independent Creators?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve delved into some pressing issues affecting small and medium-sized creators on YouTube. One of the most significant concerns is the invalid traffic issue, where creators have seen a drastic reduction in their ad revenue without any clear explanation from YouTube.

In my latest video, I discuss YouTube’s advertiser friendly policies. Are they too restrictive? I believe they are, especially when we consider the evolving media landscape. It seems that advertisers might be giving YouTube a harder time, or perhaps YouTube isn’t advocating enough for its creators.

For instance, YouTube, despite being one of the world’s largest websites with over a billion monthly viewers, faces challenges with monetizable video inventory. Not every video qualifies for monetization due to YouTube’s ad-friendly policies or other related criteria. This has led to frustrations among advertisers who are finding it challenging to place their ads on desired YouTube content. The introduction of YouTube Shorts has also reportedly cannibalized the core YouTube business, making it harder for advertisers to book long-form ads.

YouTube’s response to these challenges is to try and squeeze more advertising inventory out of their existing stock of videos. They’re doing this through becoming more aggressive in restricting ad-blockers and have removed most of the ad placement controls creators used to have when uploading videos. They’re also now automatically running mid-roll ads during livestreams.

Driving the problem might be that only a fraction of YouTube videos can be monetized thanks to the very heavy restrictions YouTube was forced to bring to the platform. The root of these restrictive policies can be traced back to the “adpocalypse” a few years ago. Major advertisers paused their YouTube ad purchases after objectionable videos were found to be paired with their ads. YouTube’s quick fix was to implement an algorithmically driven system to determine video suitability for advertising. Over time, these guidelines have become more restrictive, with many creators finding it challenging to navigate the ever-changing rules.

For example, Juane Brown from the Blancolirio channel, an expert in aviation, has faced numerous limitations in monetizing his insightful analysis of aircraft accidents. Combat Veteran Reacts, a channel that provides valuable insights into global conflicts from a US Army combat veteran, has also faced challenges in monetizing coverage of the conflict in Ukraine.

What’s even more concerning is that while YouTube’s policies are becoming stricter, major advertisers are placing ads on content on other platforms that would clearly violate YouTube’s guidelines. For instance, violent movies like American Psycho that violate numerous policies on YouTube are fully monetized on Peacock with ads from major brands like Subaru, Progressive Insurance, Adobe, TJ Maxx and more.

There was a time when pay-tv channels like HBO (now Max) could push the envelope as they did not have to worry about offending advertisers. But in this new era most of the major streaming providers, including Max, are running ads on that very same content.

So, how can we address this? Trust is a significant factor. Why can’t YouTube develop some level of trust with responsible professional creators who are contributing useful information and discussion to the world? Shouldn’t creators with a track record of responsible reporting be trusted with major brand advertising especially if those brands are advertising on similar content on other platforms?

Instead YouTube treats all creators with an equal layer of distrust, paying content moderators to watch every single video uploaded from channels that have never had an advertiser friendly violation.

Moreover, YouTube needs to advocate for its creators. If platforms like Peacock can have ads on content like American Psycho, why isn’t YouTube pushing back on advertisers to get them to loosen up for responsible independently produced content that is just as valuable as what major media organizations provide?

I fear this is another example of YouTube continuing their corporate march to make themselves more like TikTok and Instagram, rewarding fluff over substance. What sets YouTube apart are the many independent voices that for the first time in history can be heard at enormous scale.

I hope at some point they’ll get back to their roots and build upon their strengths versus emulating their competitors.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree: The likely cause of YouTube’s Invalid Traffic problem

It’s been a week since my last video on YouTube’s demonetization of many small channels due to “invalid traffic” and YouTube is still silent as to why some small creators are losing anywhere from half to nearly all of their revenue. In my latest video I take a look at what is the likely cause of this problem and why YouTube isn’t talking.

My suspicion is that YouTube is currently under scrutiny from three major stakeholders, and unfortunately, creators aren’t on that list. First, there are YouTube’s advertisers. Over the summer, a company named Adalytics released two significant studies that questioned some of Google and YouTube’s advertising practices. Although YouTube and parent company Google have denied these claims, the evidence from these studies suggests that these issues might be why revenue is getting clawed back.

One of the studies by Adalytics focused on TrueView skippable in-stream ads. These are the ads you see when you start a YouTube video, which you can choose to watch or skip. If you watch the ad, the advertiser pays. However, over the past two and a half years, YouTube has been selling these ads not just on their platform but also on other websites.

Adalytics and some industry insiders believe that many of these ads aren’t even being viewed by people. They’re running in the background on a website or sometimes not displayed to a person at all. This might be because YouTube doesn’t have as much ad inventory available for advertisers on YouTube itself, making YouTube-only placements a more expensive advertising option compared to other ad supported platforms like Hulu and Netflix.

Another factor is YouTube’s restrictions on how ads can run. Videos deemed “made for kids” can’t run certain types of ads. This reduces the available inventory. Also, YouTube is stringent about which channels can run ads. Many channels and videos are deemed “not advertiser-friendly,” further limiting ad inventory that YouTube can offer advertisers. For some reason advertisers are ok with their ads appearing on platforms like Netflix and Hulu next to content that they would not be comfortable with on YouTube.

Then there’s the issue of YouTube Shorts. These short videos are drawing viewers away from the more profitable long-form content that YouTube’s advertisers want to pay for. Creators who are able to negotiate brand deals on their own are far more motivated to make low-effort Shorts vs. longer form videos that require a greater time investment.

Another concern raised by Adalytics is about the placement of ads on “made for kids” videos. The study suggests that YouTube might be bending the rules by detecting when an adult is watching one of these videos and showing them adult-targeted ads. This was likely done in an effort to increase the amount of inventory they could sell to advertisers.

But here’s the problem: what if YouTube’s adult-detecting AI gets it wrong and a kid is the one actually watching? The Adalytics report suggests this is happening and advertisers are very unhappy. One advertiser said they’d be looking for refunds:

“Google has failed advertisers, again. There is no reasonable excuse for ads running on content intended primarily for kids other than to extort advertisers through a toddler-enabled click farm. The observations around Pmax (Preschooler Max) are damning given the hard sell Google is putting on us to trust their so-called AI black box. We’re overdue real transparency and Google needs to be made accountable – refunding us for all ads on this content and explaining themselves to the FTC.”

This is problematic because kids might still end up clicking on these ads, leading to potential legal issues. It is against the law in the United States to track the online behavior of children under the age of 13.

This in turn creates a “fruit of the poisonous tree” situation. And here’s how I think this is playing out: A kid gets served an adult ad on a “made for kids” video. They click on the ad and now an advertiser is collecting data on that individual. That account then starts viewing other ads on non-kid videos and additional data is collected and additional targeted advertising is directed at that account. But the entire account is poisoned at this point – and any ad views are likely going to be deemed invalid.

If YouTube is looking to refund advertisers for this traffic they’re going to have to follow those accounts across all of the videos they watched in an effort to make these advertisers whole. And it’s likely the creators getting hit with this are appealing to younger audiences hence the great impact. The only open question is why this seems to be hitting smaller creators more than the larger ones.

All these challenges come at a time when Google, YouTube’s parent company, is facing a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice accusing them of being a monopoly. This is a significant case, and Google’s entire business could be at risk.

I recently spoke with Sarah Kimmel, a fellow creator who runs a channel called Family Tech. She shared her frustrations with the current situation on YouTube. Like many, she’s seen a significant drop in her revenue with zero communication from YouTube. She emphasized the need for transparency from YouTube. All she wants, like many of us, is clarity.

In conclusion, these are challenging times for creators on YouTube. Many factors are at play, and it’s crucial for YouTube to communicate and support its creator community. They

The Silent Crisis on YouTube : Invalid Traffic Revenue Clawbacks Decimating Small channels

The other day I received a concerning message in my YouTube analytics. The message indicated that ads had been limited on one or more of my videos due to “invalid traffic.” The ambiguity of the message left me puzzled. Which videos were affected? What financial implications would this have for my channel? I explore this brewing crisis in my latest video.

I wasn’t alone in this. A quick search revealed that several other creators, especially smaller channels like mine, were facing similar issues. Some reported losing up to 80 and 90% of their revenue with no clear explanation from YouTube beyond the vague explanation of “invalid traffic.”

YouTube’s response to this has been, to put it mildly, unsatisfactory. Their support articles mostly point fingers at creators, suggesting that the invalid traffic might be due to automated or incentivized traffic from third parties, or even friends playing videos from playlists all day long. I can confidently say that I’ve never engaged in such practices. I’ve built my channel from the ground up over a decade, always focusing on genuine content and organic growth.

What’s even more frustrating is the lack of clear communication from YouTube. When I reached out to their support, I was met with evasive answers. They wouldn’t specify which of my videos were affected or provide any clarity on the potential financial impact I can expect.

Speculating on the cause, I believe that channels like mine, which rely heavily on search traffic, might be getting penalized. About 42% of my traffic comes from people searching for specific product reviews. If YouTube’s algorithms can’t distinguish between genuine and “invalid” search traffic, channels like mine stand to lose a significant portion of their revenue.

But this issue is just the tip of the iceberg. YouTube seems to be undergoing an identity crisis. Their recent push towards “shorts” to compete with platforms like TikTok has had unintended consequences. Their usual communication discipline is appearing to break down as evidenced through a leak of their internal debates to a Financial Times reporter. The platform’s shift in focus to be more like TikTok and Instagram has affected how long-form content is recommended, leading to decreased visibility for creators like me.

The core strength of YouTube has always been its long-form content. But with the platform’s current trajectory, it feels like they’re sidelining creators who’ve been with them from the start. The lack of clear communication and support only exacerbates the feeling of being undervalued.

While I remain hopeful for the future, YouTube needs to address these issues head-on. Clear communication, better support for creators, and a re-evaluation of their current strategies are crucial. Only then can they rebuild the trust that seems to be eroding with each passing day.

YouTube Kills External Linking Because TikTok Does It?

YouTube announced this weekend that they will be disabling external links in the video description and comments for YouTube Shorts videos. This is the subject of my latest video.

This change, set to take effect on August 31st, has left me concerned for small and mid-sized creators who rely on affiliate marketing links for a portion of their revenue. When I first started making videos affiliate links drove most of my channel’s income and still represent a sizable portion of my overall revenue.

Affiliate links pay the creator a commission for sales that are generated from a user clicking on the link. What I really like about affiliate marketing is that it disincentivizes false advertising, as any returns made on an affiliate generated sale are deducted from the commission paid to the creator.

That’s why I was very disappointed to see the official response from YouTube’s “Creator Liaison,” Rene Ritchie, who said in a Twitter post that this was “the same as Reels and TikTok” and creators on those platforms were doing just fine.

I’ve always believed that YouTube offers a unique platform that stands out from its competitors through generous (and transparent) revenue sharing on long form videos, great discovery features, and the ability to use external links for affiliate marketing and other purposes.

The introduction of this restriction feels like a step backward – especially as their spokesperson devalues his own brand by comparing it to platforms that are the absolute worst for creator monetization. Perhaps Rene’s experience as a content creator and the creators he associates with are not struggling the way most monetized creators do on the platform. Some of us would prefer not to do the type of payola that clogs up TikTok and Reels.

One of the arguments presented by YouTube for this change revolves around security concerns, specifically the risk of scams and hacks appearing in comment threads. But YouTube solved that problem years ago by holding comments with links for moderation if the creator enables that feature (I do). Rene also rejected the idea of allowing those in the YouTube partner program to continue linking as he thinks it would make them a target for phishing attacks. But large creators are already the targets of phishing attacks as Linus Tech Tips found out a few months ago.

What I think is happening here is that YouTube is trying to get their own affiliate program off the ground which does work with Shorts. This new feature embeds affiliate links in the video itself but is limited only to retailers that agree to work with YouTube who presumably takes a cut of the action.

While this program has potential, my experience with it so far has been underwhelming. The click-through rates and conversions from YouTube’s affiliate links are significantly lower than my personally generated affiliate links and very few retailers that sell the types of products I cover are participating in the YouTube program.

I hope that YouTube will reconsider this decision and continue to support creators of all sizes. I love YouTube because it’s not a payola cesspool like their competitors. If that’s the vision for Shorts, fine. But the people I know at YouTube want to do better than that. And after all, it’s the creators who drive the platform, and their voices should be heard.

Channel Updates and Future Plans – Navigating the YouTube Algorithm

It’s been a while since I last checked in with a channel update. I’ve been considering some changes to expand my presence on YouTube, primarily to navigate the ever-evolving algorithm. I detail that in my latest video.

I recently did some research, following my video about how the algorithm misses things from a viewer perspective, and found that most of my subscribers aren’t seeing the content I produce. The YouTube algorithm seems to prioritize certain content over others, and with my diverse coverage in the tech space, it’s been challenging to ensure that my videos reach all of you.

Over the past year, I’ve garnered 8.1 million views, but only a fraction of those views come from my subscribers. It’s evident that not every subscriber is aware of my new uploads, which feels to like an algorithmically generated shadow unsubscribe. This led me to consider YouTube’s current (albeit ever changing) advice: start a new channel when existing topics aren’t gaining traction. But starting from scratch is a daunting task, especially when you’ve built a community over the years.

Analyzing my channel’s performance, I noticed that cord-cutting topics have been the most popular recently. However, just a year ago, laptops and Chromebooks were the top performers. It’s clear that consumer interests shift, and as a content creator, I need to adapt.

Given these insights, I’ve decided to branch out a bit. I’ve launched a new channel, “Lon’s Gadget Picks,” where I’ll be reviewing various gadgets I receive through the Amazon Vine program with short reviews. These are typically things I’d skip on the main channel but they don’t take long to produce so I may as well see if this kind of topic has any legs on its own.

I’ve also partnered with, where I’ve had the opportunity to provide commentary on launches and contribute footage. This collaboration allows me to indulge my passion for space exploration and find a new audience as space videos typically underperform on my main channel.

While I’m excited about these new ventures, I’m also committed to continuing with the content you do watch. However, I’m considering spinning off some of these topics into separate channels in the future as I continue to test ways of finding audience for my less popular content.

To make it easier for you to keep up with all my content, I’ve consolidated everything on my blog. You can also subscribe to my weekly email newsletter or the almost daily email for regular updates. For those interested, I’ve expanded to other platforms like Amazon and Floatplane, offering the same content as on YouTube.

Lastly, I want to express my gratitude to all of you, especially the supporters who’ve contributed to the channel. Your viewership and support mean the world to me. Stay tuned for more updates, and as always, thank you for being a part of this journey!

YouTube Needs to Fix the Subscriptions Tab!

I’ve been a part of the YouTube community for about 18 years, starting as an avid viewer and transitioning into a content creator over the last decade. Over the years, I’ve observed the platform’s evolution, especially the algorithmic recommendations on the homepage. While these recommendations often present me with content I’m genuinely interested in, there are times when I miss out on channels I want to catch up with.

I think YouTube can fix this problem by updating their “Subscriptions Tab” to make it easier to organize and navigate subscribed channels. This is the subject of my latest video.

Last year I delved deeper into RSS feeds, a standard for content distribution that can be used with an RSS feed reader to aggregate content from various sources into one organized space. This exploration was an eye-opener as I discovered I was missing content from many of my favorite creators including some larger ones.

Apparently if you don’t religiously watch a creator you’re effectively “shadow unsubscribed” and rarely see their uploads on the recommended home page.

This discrepancy led me to revisit YouTube’s subscriptions tab which gives users the “fire hose” of everything uploaded from subscribed channels in the order in which those videos were posted.

The experience varies across devices. On desktop, it’s a mix of live channels and a chronological list of videos from subscribed channels. On a TV, there’s a semblance of organization with frequently watched channels appearing at the top but no way to control what channels get pinned to the top of that list. The mobile version offers filters like ‘Live’ and ‘Continue Watching’, but the overall experience remains cluttered – especially if you’re subscribed to channels that dump a whole bunch of content at once.

The subscription tab on TV pins frequently watched channels to the top.

One feature I appreciate on YouTube’s algorithmically generated homepage is the topic-based organization of its recommendations. It would be beneficial if such a system were integrated into the subscriptions tab, allowing users to view content from their subscribed channels based on specific topics.

To experiment with this idea, I set up my own RSS reader dedicated to YouTube. Using FreshRSS, I organized channels into topics, creating a streamlined content consumption experience. This approach allowed me to view content from local news stations, hyper-local channels, and other niche interests, all in one place.

In addition to subscribing to channels YouTube also allows the generation of feeds for playlists too. For example I added the playlist for Wil Wheaton’s “Ready Room” Star Trek interview show on the Paramount+ as that’s about the only thing I watch from their channel.

The best part about the RSS approach is that it’s more efficient from a viewing perspective and lets ME choose what not to watch vs. having an algorithm do it for me. Being able to see what I’m passing over is preferable to not seeing it at all IMHO.

While I appreciate YouTube’s efforts in content recommendation, there’s room for improvement in the subscriptions tab. As both a viewer and a creator, I believe that refining this feature will enhance the user experience, ensuring that we never miss out on content from our favorite creators.

ChatGPT Saves Me Time by Converting YouTube Transcripts to Blog Posts

I’ve been around for awhile in the tech media space so I’m always weary when the next new “shiny object” emerges on the scene. Google Glass, VR, crypto and NFTs were mega hyped by influencers only to fall way short when it came to mass consumer adoption.

Over the last several months the chattering influencer class has shifted focus almost entirely to artificial intelligence (AI) driven by the very rapid advancements in Large Language Model (LLM) chatbots like ChatGPT. I haven’t heard a peep about NFTs in months!

I approached this new technology with a healthy degree of skepticism. While it certainly has a “gee whiz” factor to it could it actually have some real utility in my day-to-day life?

I decided to pony up the $20 monthly subscription fee for ChatGPT Plus to see if it could save me some time and make my workflow more efficient. And surprisingly – it did. You can learn more in my latest video.

I’ve been using ChatGPT to help write these blog posts based on the transcripts of my YouTube videos for the last month or two. Last week ChatGPT became even more useful through the introduction of plugins that allow ChatGPT to perform tasks that go beyond its pre-existing knowledge cutoff of September, 2021.

One of the plugins I’ve been using is VoxScript, which can pull down full video transcripts from YouTube which the ChatGPT can use to produce summaries for this blog and my email newsletter.

Here’s how it works: I provide ChatGPT with the URL of my YouTube video and ask it to write a summary in the first person in a journalistic, neutral language style. ChatGPT uses VoxScript to pull down the full transcript from the video and starts writing the summary. The result is usually a well-written summary that captures the key points of the video, saving me about 30 minutes to an hour of writing time.

The AI does an impressive job of interpreting the automatically generated YouTube transcripts, even correcting inaccuracies and presenting the information in a coherent manner.

Of course, it’s not perfect, and I do have to tweak some parts to ensure it aligns with my voice and style. But overall, it can generate anywhere from 75-90% of the post depending on what the topic is. This post, for example, needed a little more work done to it by yours truly but the framework it provided was a great time saver.

As AI technology continues to evolve, I’m excited to see how it can further enhance productivity and efficiency in various fields. And AI is more than just chatbots. For example Tesla’s full self driving system is an artificial intelligence neural network running locally on their cars trained to drive a car.

As always, I’m interested in hearing about your experiences with AI. If you’ve found a practical use for AI that has improved your workflow definitely head over to YouTube and share your experiences in the comments section of the video.

Market Conditions Impact YouTube Success

If you’re wondering why your YouTube tech channel is on the slower side when it comes to revenue and traffic, here’s a hint from this CNN Business article on Samsung’s 95% sales decline:

“Samsung Electronics flagged a gradual recovery for chips in the second half of the year after its semiconductor business reported a record loss on Thursday, driven by weak demand for tech devices.”

Over the years my YouTube channel has proven to be a window into where consumers are at in a particular space. 80% of my traffic comes from search and recommendation vs. subscribers and I cover a variety of gear that stretches across the consumer electronics industry. I just have to look at my analytics to learn what the market wants.

There is therefore a direct correlation between where consumers are at and how well I do as a creator. It’s very clear consumers are buying less stuff but are very interested in saving money with the gear they already have. What they are looking to purchase are products that have a direct return on investment.

My top 10 videos for this year are driven almost entirely by consumer-focused content: Cord cutting tops the list along with content about ISP alternatives. Other consumer focused topics I’ve experimented with are doing much better than product reviews at the moment.

YouTube and some of its orbiting “experts” will tell you to pick one tiny topic and focus on it. This IMHO is a mistake in a market that is is constantly changing based on consumer demand.

Developing a diverse set of topics within the space you cover will help find the pulse of what the market wants so you can deliver based on those needs.

How Are YouTube Shorts Doing for Me So Far?

Not great. I earned 26 cents on 5,000 YouTube Shorts views since monetization began – a $0.05 CPM. This is WAY below the typical YouTube CPM (cost per thousand views) on long-form content both for ad & Premium viewers.

My Shorts did pick up 83 new subscribers since I started posting shorts so there is some value there, but certainly not on the monetization side of things.

New Shorts don’t take much time to create but I don’t think there’s any value in spending time repurposing older longer-form content as Shorts. The same number of views from long form videos generated significantly higher CPMs even in saturated content verticals like gaming.